MoD ‘admits’ death of pilot who ‘inhaled Chinook fumes’ was related to service

Squadron Leader Kai Macnaughton wearing medals
Squadron Leader Kai Macnaughton died aged 53 from blood cancer (Picture: UK MoD)

An RAF pilot’s fatal cancer was related to his military service where he spent decades flying helicopters, the government has reportedly admitted.

Squadron Leader Kai Macnaughton was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive blood vessel cancer aged 52 while still in the armed forces, and died just three weeks later aged 53.

His widow has now been informed she could be entitled to a military pension as his death in March 2023 was service related, the Times reported.

Mr Macnaughton flew thousands of hours as a navigator on Puma helicopters, and then piloted Chinooks on special forces operations. He made seven tours of Afghanistan and was recognised in a Mention in Despatches for his role in a rescue operation.

Clare Macnaughton told the paper she is convinced that two decades being exposed to toxic exhaust fumes on RAF helicopters led to his early death.

The issue is much wider than this single case. More than 100 further people are suing the Ministry of Defence (MoD) claiming inhaling the exhaust caused cancer to themselves or their loved ones.

Sqn Ldr Macnaughton's funeral held at RAF Odiham last year
Sqn Ldr Macnaughton’s funeral held at RAF Odiham last year (Picture: AS1 Palmer)

Squadron Leader Kai Macnaughton
Kai Macnaughton flew in Puma and Chinook helicopters for two decades

Squadron Leader Kai Macnaughton
Kai Macnaughton pictured with wife Clare

Lawyers claim that engine gases containing benzene carcinogens were not sufficiently removed from the aircraft and were being sucked through the cabin, meaning those on board were breathing them in.

Aircrew were not given masks or told about the risks, Hugh James solicitors claimed.

Clare received a letter this month from Veterans UK, a support branch of the MoD, saying that she was entitled to a war widows pension as her ‘husband’s passing was service related’.

The MoD did not admit fault and Clare said she would still be pursuing her legal case against them.

She told the paper the pension decision was ‘important because it paves the way for civil action. It’s also gives me a sense of closure and vindication for Kai.’

Hugh James law firm is also representing members of the armed forces who suffered hearing loss as a result of noise levels they were exposed to, in an unrelated case.

Yesterday the MoD accepted responsibility for hearing loss in some cases of those serving since 1987, agreeing that it had a ‘duty of care’.

‘Test cases’ are set to be held next year which will determine how much compensation thousands of others could receive.

Simon Ellis, partner at Hugh James, told the paper: ‘This is a groundbreaking development for servicemen and women seeking justice for their hearing loss.’

An MoD spokesperson said: ‘We hugely value our service personnel and veterans and owe a debt of gratitude to all those who serve, often with great personal sacrifice.

‘We continually review our policies to ensure they are aligned with good practice and protect our people from harm.

‘Service personnel and veterans who believe they have suffered ill health due to service, from 6 April 2005, have the existing and long-standing right to apply for no-fault compensation under the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme.’


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