WALES: There was a whoosh, then bright light engulfed my room; VICTIM'S COMRADE RECALLS FATAL MISSILE ATTACK.
ANTI-missile guns couldn't fire fast enough to save a North Wales airman killed when a rocket hit his accommodation block in Iraq.
The UK base at Basra Airport had just 16 seconds warning the rocket was about to hit, killing Senior Aircraftman Peter McFerran and two other RAF servicemen, an inquest heard yesterday.
A navy designed anti-missile system fired guns to re-direct the incoming 240mm round, but they didn't knock it far enough off course and it landed in the corridor outside SAC McFerran's room, in the middle of the Catterick Lines accommodation blocks.
SAC McFerran, 24, of Fron Road, Connah's Quay, died instantly alongside SAC Matthew Caulwell, 22, of Birmingham, who was in the next room and served with him in 1 Squadron RAF Regiment, based in Suffolk.
Christopher Dunsmore, 29, of Leicester, an SAC in 504 Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force Regiment and whose room was across the corridor, was also killed.
A further 12 people suffered injuries in the blast, last July 19.
The missile was fired from more than 10km away, and the insurgents responsible have not been found, the inquest in Trowbridge town hall, Wiltshire, was told.
At the time the base was being attacked by indirect fire four to six times a day.
Sergeant Robert Williams, who was in a hut at Catterick Lines and survived said: "I heard a whoosh, then a bright light engulfed my room."
He said he blacked out and after coming round witnessed a scene of "utter devastation" - bent and twisted metal in which he saw some of his injured colleagues.
Lieutenant Commander Alan Kerr, of the Royal Navy, was acting as a tactical control officer overseeing Basra Airport's defence system, called Phalanx, when an alarm, indicating 16 seconds until impact, was given at 2.21pm local time.
One of the system's automated guns fired at the in-coming round to divert it from its predicted target, the accommodation huts of Catterick Lines.
But Lt Cmdr Kerr said the rocket's flight path was not altered enough. It simply landed in a different area of the accommodation area, killing the three men.
He said Phalanx was 75% successful, adding: "It is at the forefront of missile defence technology. There is nothing else in the world like it."
Lt Colonel Andrew Barr, commanding officer for force protection in Basra at the time, fought back tears as he said: "I have spoken to all the experts and been told there was nothing that could have been done to save their lives. They were too close."
He said plans were afoot at the time to replace the accommodation huts at Catterick Lines with more permanent, concrete structures but contractors of the required quality were hard to come by in Basra.
Lt Col Barr added: "A 240mm rocket is quite something to defeat. It's about a quarter of a tonne travelling at 100m/second. It requires about two metres of concrete to slow it down, so overhead protection is a problem."
The three men killed were part of a force protection squadron, ensuring the security of the base to enable personnel to operate from it.
Wiltshire coroner David Masters, giving the cause of the deaths as blast wounds caused by an explosion, recorded verdicts of unlawful killing.
He said the rocket was "deflected marginally from its directed path but landed in the corridor".
He said: "It exploded with huge force and led to the devastation we have heard described."
After SAC McFerran's death last year his family had said they thought stronger buildings should be built inwar zones, so they would not collapse and cause so much damage.
But speaking about the men's accommodation huts, Mr Masters added: "I am told, and I accept, that if there was to be concrete cover, you would need 2m of concrete to avoid something like this occurring."
He paid tribute to the professionalism and bravery of the men and their surviving colleagues.
SAC McFerran's family were too upset to comment last night.
An inquest into the death of Senior Aircraftman Peter McFerran (above) has heard harrowing details of the Basra missile strike that claimed his life