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Shameful failings over soldier's death; Coroner hits out at lack of equipment.

Byline: Nathan Rees

THE Ministry of Defence "should hang their heads in shame" over the lack of equipment that led to the death of a soldier in Afghanistan, a coroner said yesterday.

Corporal Mark Wright, 27, was killed when a mine exploded as a Chinook helicopter attempted to rescue a stranded platoon of Paras.

Coroner Andrew Walker, recording a narrative verdict following a two-week inquest in Oxford, said a catalogue of serious failures had contributed to his death.

He highlighted three factors - the lack of appropriate UK helicopters in Afghanistan fitted with a winch, the downwash from the Chinook sent to the minefield and the administrative delay in sending a suitable helicopter.

Mr Walker said the lack of suitable helicopters was "lamentable" and "simply about money".

He added: "That a brave soldier is lost in battle is always a matter of deep sadness, but when that life is lost where it need not have been because of a lack of equipment and assets, those responsible should hang their heads in shame."

The inquest heard the Chinook was sent in to rescue troops from the Parachute Regiment's 3rd Battalion who were injured by explosions after a sniper strayed into the unmarked danger zone.

The marooned soldiers requested a helicopter with a winch to extract the sniper, whose leg had been blown off, but were told none was available.

Instead, the Chinook was dispatched but was waved away for fear of causing further explosions as it tried to land.

As it took off, a mine exploded, causing Cpl Wright from Edinburgh, who was trying to help injured comrades, severe shrapnel wounds from which he later died. He was posthumously awarded a George Cross medal.

Six others were hurt, including three who lost limbs, during the incident on September 6 2006.

Two American Blackhawk helicopters, fitted with winches, were eventually sent to rescue the soldiers - three-and-a-half hours after the first explosion.

Mr Walker listed a number of serious failures that contributed to the death.

He said the lack of batteries for radios at observation posts, leaving soldiers to fire shots in the air to attract their colleagues, "simply beggars belief".

He criticised the methods used to train soldiers to locate and mark mines, which failed to take account of the technology available.

Other failures included no assessment of the mine threat, an officer's inability to interpret mine maps and the fact that the injured troops did not receive advanced medical treatment within the Nato doctrine of one hour.

Mr Walker made recommendations including that a mine training manual dating back to the Second World War be rewritten.

Following the verdict, Commander of Joint Helicopter Command, Rear Admiral Tony Johnstone-Burt said he was confident that current resources enable British forces to meet the tasks they face

LIST OF FAILURES

A CATALOGUE of failures and "defects in the system" were blamed for contributing to the death of Corporal Mark Wright by Coroner Andrew Walker.

Among them were:

The lack of appropriate UK helicopters in Afghanistan fitted with a winch.

The administrative delay in sending a suitable helicopter with a winch - blamed on bureaucracy and red tape at Nato level.

Insufficient batteries for radios at observation posts, leaving soldiers to fire shots in the air to attract attention.

A failure to provide meaningful information to soldiers about the threat of mines.

The failure of training to take account of technology available to detect mines.

The Chinook helicopter commander being briefed without reference to a mine map, leading to the pilot unknowingly landing his aircraft in the area.

The failure to properly take account of local information about the mine threat at the start of the occupation of the Kajaki area

CAPTION(S):

FAILINGS Corporal Mark Wright, who was killed in Afghanistan.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Oct 18, 2008
Words:625
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