Copter crash was due to IRA gunfire – report

The 1978 funeral of Colonel Ian Corden-Lloyd. A newly-released report reveals his helicopter was trying to avoid IRA gunfire when it crashed
The 1978 funeral of Colonel Ian Corden-Lloyd. A newly-released report reveals his helicopter was trying to avoid IRA gunfire when it crashed

A newly-released MOD file has revealed that an Army helicopter, said to have crashed in a 1978 air accident, came down trying to avoid IRA gunfire.

Among those on board the ill-fated south Armagh flight was one of the most senior British army officers killed during the Troubles - but for almost four decades the exact circumstances of his death have been shrouded in secrecy.

Army Air Corps Gazelle helicopter

Army Air Corps Gazelle helicopter

Now, the full details of the crash that claimed the life of Lieutenant-Colonel Ian Corden-Lloyd have finally been revealed.

An official report into the incident, released following a Freedom of Information request, records that shortly after 5pm on 17 February 1978, South African-born Lt Col Ian Corden-Lloyd, commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion Royal Green Jackets, took off from the Army base at Bessbrook Mill.

The senior officer took off in a Gazelle helicopter after reports that a patrol from his regiment was under heavy attack from IRA gunmen near Jonesborough.

“It took us just over six minutes to get to the contact site,” recalled Captain Schofield, who was also travelling in the helicopter.

“The Gazelle flew slowly, trying to identify the IRA firing positions.”

The arrival of the Gazelle prompted the IRA to break off the attack and flee towards the nearby border, but as the pilot pursued the gunmen a burst of fire passed by the aircraft and the helicopter suddenly lunged violently before plummeting to the ground.

Corden-Lloyd, who was awarded the Military Cross for an earlier tour in Northern Ireland and also served on attachment with the SAS, was killed in the impact, while the pilot and Captain Schofield were wounded, the latter suffering serious injuries.

Hours later the IRA released a statement claiming to have shot down the Gazelle, making it the first military aircraft to be lost to hostile fire in Northern Ireland since the beginning of The Troubles.

But this was vigorously denied by the British Army, who stated that “Lt Col Corden-Lloyd was killed in a flying accident - repeat, a flying accident - while engaged in operations over South Armagh.”

A full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the crash was immediately launched by the Army, but its findings were kept secret for 37 years.

Finally, after a Freedom of Information request, the full air accident report has now been released into the National Archives, and confirms that the helicopter did crash as a result of hostile action. The report states that the Gazelle’s pilot, Sergeant Brian Ives, was forced to make a violent manoeuvre to dodge a stream of high-velocity tracer rounds fired by several IRA gunmen from positions just across the border in the Irish Republic. “A burst of tracer came up from across the border,” states the report.

“The helicopter, avoiding the tracer fire, carried out a fast evasive manoeuvre - during which the pilot may have made an error. It appeared to stall before falling and hitting the ground. It bounced, was seen to cartwheel, hit a stone wall and landed in a field on its right side.”

The IRA continued firing upon the two survivors trapped in the wreckage, until another helicopter arrived carrying reinforcements and drove them off after a fierce exchange of fire.

Paying tribute in Parliament, Robert Brown MP described Corden-Lloyd as “a superb commanding officer, a very great and gallant soldier.”

Col Corden-Lloyd, who was married with three children, was posthumously awarded an MBE and buried with full military honours at Magdalene Hill cemetery in Winchester.

A MOD spokesman declined to comment on the new revelation. He said: “We have nothing more to add to the air accident investigation.”