RAF pilot killed ejecting from military jet was told aircraft 'broken'

RAF pilot killed ejecting from military jet was told aircraft 'broken'

October 4, 2022

RAF pilot’s widow who is suing for £1m compensation after he was killed ejecting from military jet over Italian Alps tells inquest that he was told aircraft was ‘broken’ days before tragedy

  • Father-of-two David Ashley, 49, killed shortly after taking off in M-346 fighter jet 
  • The test pilot he was with, Giampaolo Goattin, 53, survived the crash in March
  • Widow Heather said today that Mr Ashley received a voicemail from the pilot
  • She told inquest review message said they must delay flight as aircraft ‘broken’ 
  • Mrs Ashley spoke of fears that the M-346 is still flying and hasn’t been grounded
  • The bereaved family are suing the makers of the jet Leonardo as well as Goattin

A former RAF pilot who died ejecting from a £25m military jet over the Italian Alps was told the aircraft was ‘broken’ just days before the tragedy, his widow claimed today. 

Heather Ashley, who has launched a £1m compensation claim over the death of husband David, told an inquest how he’d received a voicemail from the Italian pilot who was due to take him on a training flight in the M-346 Fighter Attack jet.

In the message, she says Flight Commander Giampaolo Goattin told Mr Ashley their flight would have to be delayed as the aircraft was ‘broken’ at the time.

The voicemail is said to have been left on Mr Ashley’s phone on March 8 this year, eight days before the crash.

Mrs Ashley, from Poole, has provided the message to Rachael Griffin, the Dorset coroner who will oversee the inquest into Mr Ashley’s death.

She also expressed concerns that the M-346 is still flying and has not been grounded while the investigation is carried out.

Speaking after a pre-inquest review hearing today, Mrs Ashley said: ‘So many times David was due to start flying and he was told the jet was not working.

‘Prior to the flight it just seemed to be time after time he was told the jet was not ready or the jet was broken. I’m concerned these jets are still flying today.

‘Pilots and the public are still at risk because we don’t have the answer to what took my husband’s life. My biggest concern is to get an answer as to why his life was cut short.

‘He was a highly competent pilot, professional and thorough.

‘I have every confidence in the coroner and that she will get to the bottom of this.’

David Ashley (pictured) was told the aircraft he ejected from over the Italian Alps was ‘broken’ days before the tragedy

MailOnline revealed the crash in March this year and dramatic pictures released by mountain rescue teams showed his body being recovered

Heather Ashley (left) also expressed concerns that the M-346 is still flying and has not been grounded while the investigation is carried out

James Healy-Pratt, Mrs Ashley’s lawyer, also called on Leonardo SpA, the manufacturers of the Italian jet, to be open and transparent over the alleged fault.

He said: ‘The coroner is in possession of more than 90 per cent of the evidence, the black boxes, the maker Leonardo are saying they are limited in what they can say.

‘Perhaps they can try harder. There needs to be clarity and transparency. Leonardo has given mixed messages about what they have and have not done.

‘This is the third loss of control accident within 11 years involving this make of aircraft. The last accident they grounded the aircraft and made public statements. This time, nothing but silence.’

Mr Ashley, a 49-year-old father of two and former RAF pilot, was working as an independent contractor for Leonardo SpA, an Italian aeronautical company that supplies fighter jets, and carrying out his first familiarisation training flight when the crash occurred.

He was killed on March 16 this year when the £25m fighter jet crashed in Colico-Lecco in northern Italy. Both pilots ejected shortly before the aircraft crashed into a mountain.

Mr Goattin was taken to hospital and survived the crash.

The hearing heard there were news articles which suggested the plane in question had been sold to the Turkmenistan Air Force but returned to Italy for certain modifications.

It is not known if these modifications had been carried out when the fatal flight took place.

At the pre-inquest review hearing, Mrs Griffin said: ‘I have an audio recording of a call from Mr Goattin about the jet being broken previously and the previous flight being cancelled. This being a rearranged flight on March 16.

‘I need information about the technical reason the flight was delayed until March 16, in relation to the voicemail from Mr Goattin left for Mr Ashley that the jet is broken, in his words. If it is protected by Italian law I want to know what that law is and why.’

Miranda Hill, counsel for Leonardo SpA told the hearing that the company felt very constrained on what information they could provide at this stage due to the Italian laws of secrecy in investigations.

She said as an Italian company with the Italian ministry of defence as a shareholder, they were very concerned about not breaching any laws.

Mr Ashley, a former Harrier and F18 pilot, suffered fatal head injuries after he ejected from the military jet 

Mr Ashley’s wife, Heather (pictured together), and her legal team have expressed concerns over the air safety record of the M-346 which has been involved in three crashes in the last ten years

Although the cause of the crash is unknown, it has been suggested the electronics of the fly-by-wire system were shorted by a powerful solar storm that was ongoing in the area at the time of the accident. Pictured: M-46 fighter jet

The M-346 trainer aircraft went down near the town of Colico, near Lake Como (Pictured) in Italy at approximately 12:00pm on March 16 after it was conducting tests for the Italian Armed Forces

The hearing heard the inquest could be held up for a ‘considerable’ amount of time due to the ongoing Italian investigation into whether there will be any criminal proceedings.

Mr Healy-Pratt told the court the Italian criminal investigation expert’s report was due last month but had been pushed back until March next year and the family were not confident it will be received in March either.

Mrs Griffin assured the family she intended to carry out a full investigation into Mr Ashley’s death but that would be held up by the Italian investigation.

Because the plane had a state registration and was a military not a civilian aircraft, there is no independent air accident report that would be carried out in this country under the AAIB.

The inquest heard the only Italian investigation report would be by an expert for the prosecution and any defendant could then also obtain their own expert.

Mr Healy-Pratt told the court another European air crash investigation he was involved in took 12 years for French authorities to go ahead with criminal proceedings.

He said: ‘These criminal proceedings to have a regrettable tendency to run on for a considerable amount of time. That’s something that concerns the family.’

Mr Ashley’s family are suing Leonardo SpA, as well as Mr Goattin, and are seeking a £1m compensation claim.

The next inquest review will be held in February next year.

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