Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Report reveals IRA gunfire downed British army helicopter

The recent release of an official government report revealed that a British army helicopter, which crashed in Jonesborough in February 1978, was brought down by IRA gunfire and not, as reported at the time, as a result of an air accident.

It was the first military aircraft lost as a result of hostile fire in the Troubles and represented a significant victory for the IRA.

One of the army’s most senior officers, Lieutenant-Colonel Ian Corden-Lloyd, was killed in the incident but, keen to avoid an IRA propaganda coup, the circumstances of his death were concealed by the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

However, in response to a Freedom of Information request, the MoD recently released its official report of the crash into the National Archives.

Corden-Lloyd, commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion Royal Green Jackets was on board the helicopter, which took off shortly after 5.00pm on 17th February 1978 from Bessbrook Mill army base in response to reports that a patrol was under heavy attack from IRA gunfire close to the border at Jonesborough.

The report revealed that the aircraft’s arrival halted the IRA attack as the gunmen retreated towards the border.  In pursuit, a burst of gunfire at the helicopter forced the pilot to take evasive action, causing it to suddenly lunge before plummeting to the ground.  Corden-Lloyd was killed in the impact, while the pilot, Sergeant Brian Ives, and a third occupant, Captain Schofield were wounded.

Hours later the IRA claimed its members shot down the helicopter but this was vigorously denied by the British Army, who stated: “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.

The MoD declined to comment on the revelation, stating it had nothing more to add to the air accident investigation.