Page last updated at 17:16 GMT, Wednesday, 8 October 2008 18:16 UK

Inquest hears of rescue red tape

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

An Army officer has told an inquest how his attempts to send a helicopter to rescue injured soldiers in Afghanistan were frustrated by red tape.

Colonel Stuart Tootal, who was the Parachute Regiment's 3rd Battalion commanding officer, said there was a delay in sending an American Blackhawk.

He was forced to send a Chinook with no winch which he said had a "causal link" to another mine killing a soldier.

Cpl Mark Wright, 27, from Edinburgh, died after being caught by the blast.

Cpl Tootal said there was a delay in sending a helicopter with a winch because they were waiting for clearance "at Nato level".

It has previously been suggested that the mine was set off by the helicopter's downdraft.

As the helicopter took off and flew away at some point there was then a third mine detonation which was the one that tragically and fatally wounded Cpl Wright
Col Stuart Tootal
Inquest witness

Six others were injured, including three who lost limbs, when a patrol encountered the unmarked minefield in the region of Kajaki in Helmand Province on 6 September, 2006.

Cpl Wright, who was trying to save the life of a comrade, was posthumously awarded a George Cross, the second highest military honour for bravery.

The inquest into his death at Oxford Coroner's Court heard that a platoon was protecting the area around Kajaki Dam when two snipers had gone on patrol and one had stood on a mine.

A rescue operation was put in place by Col Tootal, who was in the command centre, but he said there were not enough helicopters as resources were "stretched to breaking point". A Chinook helicopter was dispatched but had no winch to lift any casualties to safety.

Col Tootal said: "The obvious answer was a Blackhawk helicopter and we kept pushing for one. We kept being informed there was a delay because of clearance, I believe, from Nato level.

The inquest heard that three-and-a-half hours after the first explosion an American Blackhawk did eventually arrive and winched the injured soldiers to safety.

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Colonel lambasts Army rules

Col Tootal admitted there were no mine maps available for soldiers to use and the maps they had at headquarters did not reflect the local knowledge they had of Kajaki.

When asked by Coroner Andrew Walker whether consideration was given to the possibility that the helicopter could cause the detonation of mines, Col Tootal replied: "We had to discuss this but we had a man who was going to bleed to death.

"We were very alive to the threat and kept saying 'We need a Blackhawk, we need a Blackhawk'.

When Mr Walker asked whether he would have still made the decision knowing the area was in fact a minefield, Col Tootal said: "It wasn't a conventional minefield. We just didn't know.

"It was a risk that, at the time, I thought was worth taking with the information we had to hand."

Col Tootal told the court that it had become clear there was a tight cluster of mines and soldiers on the ground did not want the helicopter there.

He added: "As it took off and flew away at some point there was then a third mine detonation which was the one that tragically and fatally wounded Cpl Wright."

He continued: "It is conjecture, but I think there is a causal link between the detonation and the helicopter. That is implying no fault on the helicopter crew - they were doing their best."

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