[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated:  Saturday, 22 March, 2003, 16:37 GMT
Welsh marine dies in air crash
CH-46 Sea Knight
CH46 helicopter
Used to ferry troops to frontline
Related to larger Chinook
Carries 22 troops and four crew

A Welsh servicemen is believed to be one of the eight Royal Marines who were killed when their helicopter crashed in northern Kuwait.

Llewelyn Evans, from Llandudno, was part of Plymouth-based 3 Commando which had been leading the push into southern Iraq, on their way to the country's second city, Basra.

The Ministry of Defence has not officially named him but it is understood he died when a US CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter crashed in Kuwait.

'Brave'

The former pupil of John Bright Comprehensive School, believed to be aged 24, was being ferried in the twin-bladed American transport helicopter to secure oil fields.

He played for Llandudno rugby club and on Saturday the team called off their match as a mark of respect for their former team-mate, who used to play on the wing in the senior squad.

3 Commando Brigade
Commandos
Formed during World War II
Part of the UK's Joint Rapid Reaction Force
3,500 personnel
Includes three lightly armed units - 40, 42 and 45 Commando

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said the crash was not the result of enemy action.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said Britain owed an "immense debt of gratitude" to the troops who had died.

"These were brave men who in order to make us safer and more secure faced the risks and had the courage to serve the country and the wider world," he said.

It is thought there were problems from the start of Mr Evans' mission as pilots complained of the thick, black smoke from oil-filled trench which the Iraqis had set alight.

The first helicopter in the mission was forced to return, but the pilot of the fated machine decided to press on.

The aircraft was seen to nosedive into the ground eight miles south of Basra.

One of those in following helicopters was Lieutenant Commander Jon Pentreath.

He said: "That was a very sobering moment.

"We did not know what it was initially - we thought maybe it was a missile coming in but we found out 20 minutes, half an hour later, it was an aircraft which had crashed."

An investigation into the cause of the crash, which also killed four US servicemen, has been promised by defence chiefs.

Risk

A former US Airforce pilot told the BBC he thought the crash was probably caused by the age of the aircraft, which had been service for almost 40 years.

But the scale of the US-UK operation is bound to create a risk to troops, according to one senior officer.

Group Captain Jon Fynes was based at RAF Valley on Anglesey for eight years - where he oversaw pilots' low-level flight training - before being deployed to the Gulf.

"In an environment such as this, with so many helicopters and aircraft operating, there is always going to be a risk."

'Support'

Colonel Philip Wilkinson, formerly of 3 Commando Brigade, said: "Procedures would have been put in place to ensure that the families of the bereaved will get maximum support in every sense, emotional and financial from the system.

"And the system will be the family of 3 Commando Brigade."

A Royal Navy spokeswoman said they were busy handling calls from anxious families following the crash.

The Royal Marine's death comes as Welsh troops have been spearheading the military advance in Iraq and have also started building camps to hold hundreds of prisoners-of-war.




SEE ALSO:
Iraq reels under air assault
22 Mar 03 |  Middle East
Blair calls for unity over war
20 Mar 03 |  Politics
Q&A: War in Iraq
20 Mar 03 |  Middle East


INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific