Five-figure payout for family of air crash teen

Oxford Mail: Nicholas Rice Nicholas Rice

THE family of a 15-year-old boy killed in a plane crash in Drayton has been awarded a five-figure sum from the Ministry of Defence.

But air cadet Nicholas Rice’s mother Julia has called for confirmation that the MOD has improved the medical check-ups procedure which she said failed him.

Nicholas, from Calcot, Reading, and Abingdon pilot, Flight Lieutenant Mike Blee, were killed on June 14, 2009.

Their plane collided with a glider, but the glider’s pilot parachuted to safety.

Flt Lt Blee was assessed as fit to fly by RAF Benson doctor Douglas Wyper despite the fact he had a spinal condition, ankylosing spondylitis.

A 2012 inquest, which recorded a verdict of accidental death, heard from a medical expert that the condition meant a slight jolt could have broken his spine.

The RAF apologised in 2010, saying Mr Blee’s condition contributed to the crash but was not questioned at the time. Now, the MOD has awarded Nicholas’s family a five-figure sum in compensation, but the family want reassurance the same mistake won’t happen again.

Oxford Mail:

Julia Rice, Nicholas' mother.

Nicholas’ mother, Julia Rice, said: “Nicholas was kind and generous and was extremely well-liked. His dream was to become an aeronautical engineer with the RAF and I have no doubt that he would have succeeded.

“I agreed that Nicholas could fly in the complete understanding that the RAF knew what they were doing and would take care of him, otherwise I would never have signed any documents. My belief now is that the RAF failed my son and cost him his life.

“If I had known that my son would be flying with someone with such severe difficulties I never would have allowed it.”

Mrs Rice also said she was astounded by how difficult it had been to get details of the accident from the MOD. She said: “Nothing will ever bring Nicholas back, but hopefully now lessons will be learnt to prevent any further suffering for others.”

Mrs Rice instructed specialist armed forces lawyers at MPH Solicitors to act on her behalf.

Geraldine McCool, a partner and head of the Armed Forces Team at MPH Solicitors and Irwin Mitchell, said: “The failures in this tragic case are totally unacceptable and raise serious questions about the checks given to flying instructors.

“Julia is also disappointed in how she was treated following the accident when the MOD raised a technical argument on time limits that is untested in the courts, in order to say that the claim could not be brought.”

A Medical Practitioners Tribunal on March 25 this year found Dr Wyper’s fitness to practise was impaired, but said no further action would be taken due to the fact he had previously been suspended indefinitely.

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