A SENIOR RAF officer has defended the service's Puma helicopter fleet and its use in on-going special operations.

Group Captain Mark Brown told a Hereford inquest that the suitability of the Puma for such operations was not questioned by the 2007 crash in Iraq that cost the lives of two SAS soldiers.

The inquest had heard the Pumas - some which entered service in the 1970s - attacked as aged compared to other helicopters available.

Group Captain Brown, who headed the RAF board of inquiry into the crash that killed Sgt John Battersby and Tpr Lee Fitzsimmons, said the suitability of the Puma itself was never brought into question by the board's findings.

Instead, the board cited various circumstances as being behind the crash, from a last minute switch of landing sites to split second stresses aircrews were under as the mission - and the way it unfolded - veered well beyond the original brief.

The board's findings also referred to differences in experience amongst the aircrews and their operations team at the time of the mission, the inquest heard.

During cross-examination it was put to Group Captain Brown that more and more pressure was now being put on to inexperienced Puma pilots in increasingly complex operations.

The inquest continues