Inquest hears of serviceman's death
By Benedict O'ConnorA SERVICEMAN died after falling from a Land Rover that was branded “inadequate for the job”.Duncan Pritchard, of the RAF 16th Squadron, stationed at RAF Honington, near Bury St Edmunds, died after he fell from the back of a Land Rover in rough desert terrain in Kuwait in the early hours of April 10 last year.
By Benedict O'Connor
A SERVICEMAN died after falling from a Land Rover that was branded “inadequate for the job”.
Duncan Pritchard, of the RAF 16th Squadron, stationed at RAF Honington, near Bury St Edmunds, died after he fell from the back of a Land Rover in rough desert terrain in Kuwait in the early hours of April 10 last year.
The Land Rover had been stripped down, with no barriers on the back to make it easier for servicemen to get out of the vehicle, in preparation for operational use.
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Corporal Matthew Larham told an inquest into the 22-year-old senior aircraftman's death yesterday that he had been travelling in the same convoy returning to the Ali Al Salan air base.
He said: “The leading vehicle impacted a bump and the back end kicked out to the right.
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“When we got level with the bump, I saw a pair of desert boots lying on the floor. It was then I realised someone had been ejected from the vehicle.”
Cpl Larham added: “I believe the Land Rovers were inadequate for the job because they were too old.
“They had been stripped down, the canvas and roll cage had been stripped off them. There were better vehicles available, but the were not made available to us.”
The driver of the Land Rover, Senior Aircraftman Nigel Hunter, told the inquest he had little experience of driving across the desert at night and the vehicle had not been fitted with spotlights.
“I had been driving in the service for just under one year, but I had only been driving in the desert since March 17,” he said.
“I had training to drive in the desert two weeks before where I had one hour of desert driving training during the daytime. If the time schedule would have allowed, I would have preferred to have had more training.”
Snr AC Pritchard's colleagues also made several references to the fact that they had been exhausted from a heavy day's activity at the time of the incident.
After the accident, the critically-injured serviceman was flown to Kuwait city in a Black Hawk helicopter by a passing U.S. convoy.
From there he was airlifted back to London for specialist treatment at the National Hospital of Neurology and Neuroscience, but was pronounced dead on May 8.
A post-mortem examination conducted by pathologist Dr Freddy Patel determined the cause of death as the delayed result of severe head injuries. St Pancras coroner, Sean McGovern, recorded a verdict of accidental death.
Speaking after the inquest, Snr AC Pritchard's father, Geoffrey, of Temple Avenue, Croydon, said: “We always decided that whatever our children did for a living they would get our full support and encouragement.
“If we had our time over again, I would not stop him. I would let him do whatever he wanted to do.”
Also speaking after the inquest Flying Officer Stephen Hamilton said the Land Rovers had been modified as a deliberate safety measure.
“In operations theses vehicles can't have too many barriers to prevent servicemen from getting out,” he explained.
“If they come under fire in an ambush situation the servicemen need to be able to escape immediately for their own safety.”
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence declined to comment on the criticisms of military equipment, but confirmed the stripped down Land Rover had been approved for operational use.