Page last updated at 15:17 GMT, Friday, 20 May 2005 16:17 UK

Service honours Iraq crash dead

Members of the RAF arrive at the service
Salisbury Cathedral was packed with members of the RAF

Ten servicemen killed when a Hercules transport plane crashed in Iraq have been praised at a memorial service as "a band of brothers".

The RAF C-130K crashed during the 30 January Iraq elections - the biggest single loss of British life in the war.

"This team, our boys, gave their all for a people that they barely knew," station commander Paul Oborn told the service at Salisbury Cathedral.

Defence Secretary John Reid said the service had been a "fitting tribute".

They were a band of brothers, brothers in arms, who were united in the love and pride that they took in what they did
Paul Oborn
Station commander

A report into the cause of the crash is due soon, with newspaper speculation that anti-aircraft fire was to blame.

Mr Oborn told the congregation the soldiers had "fought in a conflict and against an enemy many of us struggle to understand".

He added: "They were a band of brothers, brothers in arms, who were united in the love and pride that they took in what they did.

"They were professionals and because of their mission they were the best."

Distress signal

The service, attended by about 1,600 people, ended with the lighting of candles for those who have fallen in Iraq.

As well as the defence secretary, senior military officers joined the families and friends of the dead soldiers at the service on Friday.

Picture of Mark Gibson's funeral
Flt Sgt Gibson died when the plane crashed 20 miles from Baghdad

The Hercules - from RAF Lyneham - sent a distress signal eight minutes after take-off on its way to a US airbase in January.

A number of possible causes for the crash, including sabotage, have been dismissed by an RAF board of inquiry interim report.

But the possibility that the aircraft was engaged in hostile fire has not been ruled out.

The Lyneham crew members who were killed were Flt Lt David Stead, 35, Flt Lt Andrew Smith, 25, Flt Lt Paul Pardoel, 35, Master Engineer Gary Nicholson, 42, Chief Technician Richard Brown, 40, Flt Sgt Mark Gibson, 34, and Sgt Robert O'Connor, 38. Cpl David Williams, 37, was also from Lyneham and also on board the Hercules.

The ninth RAF man on board, Sqn Ldr Patrick Marshall, 39, was from Strike Command Headquarters at RAF High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire and was a passenger on board.

Acting L/Cpl Steven Jones, 25, was a soldier serving with the Royal Signals and was acting a as a crew member.

The families are coping remarkably well with a determination that hope must triumph
The Right Rev Peter Hullah

Speaking after the service, the Bishop of Ramsbury, the Right Rev Peter Hullah, said church members had been helping staff and families at RAF Lyneham through the grieving process.

"This tragedy has affected more people than we could have expected," he said.

"The families are coping remarkably well with a determination that hope must triumph."

James Gray, Conservative MP for North Wiltshire, which includes RAF Lyneham, said the tragedy had "torn the heart out of the base".

There were proposals for a stained glass window of remembrance to be placed in the base's chapel, he added.



SEE ALSO
Funeral held for air crash victim
04 Apr 05 |  Wiltshire
Hercules performs funeral fly-by
01 Apr 05 |  Wiltshire
Funeral of airman killed in Iraq
30 Mar 05 |  Lincolnshire
Hercules 'sent distress signal'
23 Mar 05 |  Wiltshire

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