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Last Updated:  Friday, 28 March, 2003, 13:42 GMT
Ark Royal's tribute to Gulf dead
HMS Ark Royal
Crew members gathered for the service
A ceremony has been held on board HMS Ark Royal for three British servicemen killed in the Gulf.

They were among seven who died when two Royal Navy Sea King helicopters based on the Royal Navy flagship collided six days ago.

So far, only four of the bodies have been recovered.

The coffins of Lieutenants Philip Green, 31, James Williams, 28 and Tony King, 35, - all members of 849 Squadron - were lifted onto a Sea King helicopter to the sound of the Last Post.

Crew members gathered for a short service on the ship's deck to bid farewell to their friends and colleagues from the Cornwall-based squadron.

The Ministry of Defence said the first of the 22 UK troops killed in the Gulf are due to be returned home this weekend.

It is believed the bodies will be flown into RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire on Saturday.

Half mast

During Friday's repatriation service the three coffins were lifted up on to the aircraft carrier's deck by its huge lift, each draped in the ship's flag.

HMS Ark Royal
Today has been a difficult day but the grieving will come later
HMS Ark Royal crew member

The Ark Royal's ensign was at half mast.

Wren Donna Flemming, who knew the men well, said: "Full of life and spirit they touched everyone they met.

"Hopefully the torn feelings of those closest to the men who were lost can find refuge in the knowledge that they died doing something that they so loved."

Commodore Jamie Miller, the head of the Royal Navy taskforce in the Gulf, said: "When they lost their lives they were providing essential battlefield surveillance for the Al Faw peninsula."

'Very impressive'

BBC world affairs correspondent Matthew Price, who watched the service, said a volley of shots was fired before the Last Post was played.

"The feelings of every single one of the ship's crews have been affected. This is a very tight knit community.

"The tragedy has affected everybody on board. In terms of morale it has been very impressive."

Despite their loss, the work continues for members of 849 Squadron.

One member of the ship's crew told Price: "Today has been a difficult day but the grieving will come later".

The six British aircrew and one US Navy officer died when the two Airborne Early Warning helicopters collided last Saturday.

They were about five miles from the Ark Royal, as one returned from a mission and the other headed out for the same operation.

Sgt Les Hehir with his children William and Oliver
Sgt Les Hehir was a father-of-two
Among the other Britons who died in the accident were Lt Philip West, 32, of Budock Water, near Falmouth, Cornwall, and Lt Marc Lawrence, in his mid-20s, from Westgate, Kent.

On Friday the final victim of a separate helicopter crash which killed eight British servicemen was named by the Ministry of Defence.

Sergeant Les Hehir, 34, was a soldier with 29 Commando Regiment, Royal Artillery, based in Poole, Dorset.

He was married with two sons - Oliver, five, and William, three.

The other Britons killed were Lance Bombardier Llywelyn Evans, 24, of Llandudno, North Wales; Ian Seymour, 28; Captain Philip Guy, 29, from Bishopdale, North Yorkshire; Colour Sgt John Cecil, from Plymouth; Commando Mark Stratford; Sholto Hedenskog, from South Africa; and Major Jason Ward, 34.

Four US servicemen also died when the US Sea Knight helicopter crashed in Kuwait last Friday.

The BBC's Matthew Price
"Three coffins, three British officers killed in action"

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