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10 CREW QUIT OVER NIMROD SAFETY FEARS; EXCLUSIVE They walked out before damning report.

Byline: By JIM LAWSON

AT LEAST 10 Nimrod pilots and crew quit RAF Kinloss over fears they would be killed in the ageing fleet, it was claimed last night.

They walked out BEFORE a coroner ruled the planes should be grounded in the wake of the disaster which claimed 14 of their colleagues' lives.

The Nimrod exploded in a fireball after an air-to-air refuelling over Afghanistan.

At the inquest last week into the 2006 crash, Oxfordshire coroner Andrew Walker said all Nimrods should be grounded.

Experts believe Mr Walker's damning verdict could spark a wave of walkouts.

Aviation writer David Morgan, who has flown thousands of miles in Nimrods over 20 years, said: "I know of 10 who have left in the past decade fearing for their safety.

"I would expect further resignations due to family pressures following the coroner's finding that the aircraft are not fit to fly."

Retired squadron leader Bob Hellyer admitted dodging flights involving air-to-air refuelling during his four-and-a-half years captaining a Nimrod.

Mr Hellyer, who runs a computer centre in Forres, Moray, said: "I believe the Nimrod is not unsafe as an aeroplane but the air-to-air refuelling makes it unsafe.

"I actively avoided missions involving air-to-air refuelling because the aeroplane was not designed to do it, and who in their right mind would fly with two large planes within feet of each other?

"I would not be telling you this if I was still in the Air Force."

Families of the 14 servicemen killed are to discuss legal action.

Former Nimrod ground engineer Jimmy Jones, who is advising the bereaved families and their solicitors, said: "I would be surprised if disaffected air crew had not left to go elsewhere."

Last night the MoD refused to discuss the specific claims.

But Air Marshal Sir Barry Thornton said: "The Ministry of Defence and the Royal Air Force place the highest priority on airworthiness and the safety of our personnel."

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CAPTION(S):

Fears: David Morgan; Dodged: Bob Hellyer; Safety shock: One of the Nimrods
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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:May 25, 2008
Words:342
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