Page last updated at 17:54 GMT, Thursday, 9 October 2008 18:54 UK

Rescuers 'caused UK Afghan death'

Cpl Mark Wright
Cpl Wright died in the blast and six others were injured

A British soldier has told an inquest how he believed downdraft from a rescue helicopter in Afghanistan set off a mine which killed a colleague.

Combat medic L/Cpl Paul Hartley told the Oxford hearing how troops trapped in a minefield in 2006 screamed at the helicopter not to land near them.

He said he believed its downdraft had blown equipment onto a mine in Kajaki.

Cpl Mark Wright, 27, died after being caught by the resulting blast, as he tried to save an injured colleague.

He was posthumously awarded the George Cross. Six other soldiers were injured, including three who lost limbs, in the incident on 6 September 2006.

Concerns over safety

The soldiers, who were from the Parachute Regiment's 3rd Battalion, had been injured by blasts after one of their snipers strayed into the unmarked danger zone in the Kajaki region of Helmand province.

The marooned troops asked for a helicopter with a winch to be sent to pick up the sniper, whose leg had been blown off.

They were told none were available and the Chinook, which was not fitted with a winch, was dispatched instead.

But when it arrived the concerned soldiers tried to wave it away.

Cpl Wright, who was trying to save the life of a comrade, suffered severe shrapnel wounds, after the aircraft's downdraft caused a mine to explode.

The inquest into his death at Oxford Coroner's Court heard that despite his injuries he continued to joke, after the explosion, to try to boost the morale of the troop.


Then I looked at my stump and realised it must have been a mine

L/Cpl Stuart Hale

The sniper, L/Cpl Stuart Hale, said he had decided to move forward a few hundred metres from the platoon's position down to a ridge so he could take a closer shot at a Taleban roadblock.

He said a mine exploded as he made his way down.

He said: "I thought at first I just slipped as my rifle slipped out of my hand.

"I thought I must have been mortared and I reached out and saw my finger was hanging off.

"Then I looked at my stump and realised it must have been a mine."

L/Cpl Hale said the soldiers thought it was "a bad idea" when they heard the Chinook arriving.

He said: "When the helicopter came around and started to hover I remember thinking 'this is bad - it is going to get too low, it is going to land'.

"It did try to land. We were all shouting at it to go away. I think we all thought that the downdraft might set off a mine."

'Cheesed off'

Cpl Stuart Pearson told the inquest that he was under the impression that the area where the minefield was located was safe and L/Cpl Hale was on a mission which had been approved.

He said heard an explosion and saw smoke but believing it was just one lone mine, the soldiers set off to rescue L/Cpl Hale.

L/Cpl Stuart Hale
Sniper L/Cpl Stuart Hale, who lost a leg, spoke at the inquest

Cpl Pearson, who is now a sergeant, told the inquest that as they got closer he told the group to walk from rock to rock to avoid any mines.

He said: "I radioed back up to see what was going on and asked for a helicopter with a winch.

"We were told the winch wasn't happening and I was a bit cheesed off."

He said the plan was to move their injured colleague to a safe position before throwing him to the rescue helicopter.

But Cpl Pearson then realised they were in a minefield after spotting mounds with white rocks on top.

He radioed in again and was told a winch was not going to come.

L/Cpl Hartley said he was treating L/Cpl Hale when the Chinook arrived.

'Kit flying everywhere'

He said: "There was a massive amount of concern. I was screaming at the helicopter to go away.

"We were concerned about the downdraft setting off a mine. There was concern for the casualties on the ground - there were bits of kit flying everywhere."

He said the helicopter's crew waved at them to go towards it but he signalled for it to leave because of the danger and took cover.

He added: "As the Chinook took off, myself and Cpl Wright both stood up and looked at each other to say 'what's next?'. That was when the explosion went off."

You are courageous, you are brave and you are professional, utterly fearless in the face of these dangers
Andrew Walker
Coroner

He said he personally believed that equipment thrown around by the downdraft had blown on to a mine causing the explosion that killed Cpl Wright.

The soldiers were eventually rescued three-and-a-half-hours later by two American Blackhawk helicopters which were fitted with winches.

Earlier, the regiment's commanding officer, Colonel Stuart Tootal, said there had been delays in sending a helicopter as they had to wait for clearance "at Nato level".

Coroner Andrew Walker said he had "nothing but admiration" for the regiment.

He praised each soldier, telling one witness: "You are courageous, you are brave and you are professional, utterly fearless in the face of these dangers.

"I have no doubt that you will continue to be an inspiration to those soldiers who follow in your footsteps."

The inquest was adjourned.


SEE ALSO
Inquest hears of rescue red tape
08 Oct 08 |  Edinburgh, East and Fife
Para hit as craft tried to land
07 Oct 08 |  Edinburgh, East and Fife
Soldier inquest told of map error
06 Oct 08 |  Edinburgh, East and Fife
George Cross for 'brave' soldier
14 Dec 06 |  Edinburgh, East and Fife
Posthumous VC for heroic soldier
14 Dec 06 |  North Yorkshire
Funeral set for capital soldier
13 Sep 06 |  Edinburgh, East and Fife
Tributes paid to heroic soldier
08 Sep 06 |  Edinburgh, East and Fife

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