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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 April 2007, 14:14 GMT 15:14 UK
Iraq war air crash 'due to fault'
(Clockwise from top left) Jason Ward, Llywelyn Evans, John Cecil, Les Hehir
The personnel were all from 3 Commando Brigade
The death of eight UK servicemen in an US helicopter crash at the start of the Iraq conflict was due to mechanical failure, a coroner has ruled.

Andrew Walker's view goes against a US finding that pilot error was to blame. The commandos died along with four US marines in Kuwait on 21 March 2003.

The Oxford coroner said that it was "unacceptable" the US failed to release some evidence about the incident.

Relatives of the Britons said the lack of co-operation added to their grief.

A British board of inquiry report into the crash of the CH-46 Sea Knight several miles south of the Iraqi border caused controversy when it also differed in the findings of the US report.

The UK inquiry by 3 Commando Brigade found technical failure was to blame. British defence chiefs later endorsed the US investigation which focused on pilot "disorientation".

After the inquest verdict, the Ministry of Defence said: "Both conclusions were presented to the families as there was no way to definitely establish the cause of this tragic accident."

It said it would be considering the implications of the inquest findings.

We have to take comfort from the fact that this has been explored as thoroughly as possible
Lianne Seymour

In recording a narrative verdict today, Mr Walker, assistant deputy coroner for Oxfordshire, said he had seen "no evidence whatsoever" of pilot error.

The deaths were the first suffered by the UK in the Iraq conflict.

The British victims were all from 3 Commando Brigade based in Plymouth. The men who died were: Royal Marines Colour Sergeant John Cecil, 35, from Plymouth; Captain Philip Guy, 29, from Bishopdale, North Yorks; Marine Sholto Hedenskog, 26, from Cape Town, South Africa; Warrant Officer 2 Mark Stratford, 39, from Plymouth; and Major Jason Ward, 34, from Torquay.

Also killed were Operator Mechanic (Communications) Second Class Ian Seymour, 29, from Poole in Dorset; Sgt Les Hehir, 34, also from Poole; and Lance Bombardier Llywelyn Evans, 24, of Llandudno, north Wales. Lance Bombardier Evans had a younger brother serving in the same unit.

Edited report

The US inquiry found the crash occurred after the pilots became "spatially disoriented" in poor weather.

But some colleagues of the British service personnel told the inquest that conditions had been clear.

CH46 Sea Knight helicopter

Solicitor Geraldine McCool, who represented some of the families, said the US inquiry findings "just did not fit in with the evidence".

Relatives of the eight commandos have suggested the US might have opted for its conclusion to avoid having to ground the Sea Knight fleet at the start of the war.

In recording his verdict, the coroner recommended US Sea Knight aircraft be fitted with "black box" flight data recorders to detect any mechanical faults.

He found a "runaway", or mechanical fault, in "both the differential air speed hold actuators caused the aircraft to lose control and strike the ground".

Ian Seymour's widow, Lianne, said she was pleased with coroner's verdict.

"Ultimately, the result is the same for all of us, we've all lost our loved ones and unfortunately nothing can ever make us feel better about that situation.

"And now we have to take comfort from the fact that this has been explored as thoroughly as possible and we've come up with this verdict...

"I think we're all grateful that it wasn't taken for granted that the US verdict was conclusive".

After being criticised by Mr Walker earlier in the proceedings for non co-operation, the US supplied an edited report on the crash.

The US defence department has told BBC News the coroner was provided with a "redacted report" of the US investigation - the same report provided to the US next of kin - and permission was given for witness statements to be used in court.

It also said it released information that is not classified or "otherwise properly protected".

The coroner, earlier this year, criticised the American authorities for failing to provide "vital" information at the inquest into the 'friendly fire' death of Matty Hull.




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Relatives of the servicemen arrive at the coroner's court





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