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Paramedic 'shocked by military'

Published 10/06/2015

Corporal James Dunsby is one of three Army reservists who collapsed during an SAS training exercise
Corporal James Dunsby is one of three Army reservists who collapsed during an SAS training exercise

A search and rescue helicopter paramedic scrambled to evacuate a fatal casualty on an SAS test march was told "we occasionally get deaths on these exercises", an inquest has heard.

Andrew Dixon, a winchman on a Sea King helicopter, said the response had come from military personnel after he offered his condolences over the death of a soldier on the exercise.

An inquest into the deaths of three Army reservists heard how the experienced winchman had been left shocked by the frankness of the response.

The paramedic was part of a four-man aircrew scrambled to the Brecon Beacons in Wales on July 13 2013, to reports of a "military incident".

He added there was initially no report on how many casualties there were.

The aircrew first evacuated one patient, who had been conscious and breathing, but were later told there was a soldier who had been declared dead whom they needed to pick up.

The airman, based at RAF Chivenor in Devon, said: "On arrival, I noticed the casualty was lay on the ground but had been covered over and there were two military staff with him.

He added: "I had time to have a very brief handover from the military staff.

"They told me it was specialist military unit exercise, and there had been an incident.

"Quite matter-of-factly, the member of the directing staff said that the casualty was dead.

"He said the casualty had been assessed as dead by a heli-med (air ambulance) crew, which had since departed the scene."

Louise Hunt, the Birmingham and Solihull coroner, then read back to him his original statement in which he said: "I was unsure of the relationship between the casualty and the military personnel so I offered my condolences.

"One replied 'We occasionally get deaths on these exercises'.

"I was shocked by his frankness," he added.

The inquest being held at Solihull, in the West Midlands, is exploring the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Lance Corporal Craig Roberts, Lance Corporal Edward Maher and Corporal James Dunsby.

All three men collapsed during a 16-mile (26km) test march on one of the hottest days of the year.

L/Cpl Roberts, aged 24 and originally from Penrhyn Bay, Conwy, was pronounced dead on the mountainside, while L/Cpl Maher and Corporal Dunsby, both 31, were taken to hospital.

L/Cpl Maher, who was born in Winchester, died later the same day in Merthyr Tydfil's Prince Charles Hospital.

Cpl Dunsby, from Bath, Somerset, died on July 30 after being transferred to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.

Vicki Brown, a critical care paramedic with the Great Western Air Ambulance, said she and her crew attended to two casualties on the day.

"We recorded life extinct, on the casualty, and we then made a decision to attend to the second casualty," she said.

She described the conditions on the ground, having to walk with her medical equipment, as "very hard work, due to the hot temperature and very steep terrain".

"We lifted (off) from the first casualty, to the second," she added.

"One soldier was already there and he told us he had been performing CPR for 45 minutes, alone, in the heat."

Of the casualty, she added: "I recall seeing the name Maher on his jacket."

The inquest also heard from Soldier 1S, a regular in the Army Signals Regiment, who had been running one of five checkpoints each of the soldiers had to navigate that day.

He told the coroner he believed the amount of water available at the start and finishing checkpoints was "sufficient".

However, he recalled his surprise on hearing during a planning briefing later that night that reservists were to be allowed on the following day's test march.

"The briefing for the next day's march was at 1am, but there was no reference made to what happened," he said.

Ms Hunt asked if was "surprised there were plans to continue".

He replied: "I was surprised that the reserve units were carrying on with the march."

Asked if any changes were made because of what had happened on July 13, he replied that he did not believe there were.

Ms Hunt then asked if he had any opinions on what had occurred "on that fateful day".

The soldier, a veteran with 10 years' service, said: "For the first half of the day there was no indication it would be as hot as it was but as the day progressed I believe that every individual that struggled did so because they weren't acclimatised.

"The regular soldiers weren't succumbing to the heat as quickly."

The inquest is scheduled to take up to four weeks.

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