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Soldiers drowned after collision

Published 24/04/2015

Lance Corporal David Ramsden was driving the armoured vehicle which crashed into a canal in Afghanistan
Lance Corporal David Ramsden was driving the armoured vehicle which crashed into a canal in Afghanistan

Four soldiers drowned when their armoured vehicle travelling at up to 40mph on a dark road crashed into an unlit Afghan National Police car and rolled into a canal.

Colour Sergeant Martyn Horton, Lance Corporal David Ramsden, Private Douglas Halliday and Private Alex Isaac - all from the 1st Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Cheshire) - died in the incident.

The soldiers had been heading to an insurgent attack at a remote police checkpoint near Gereshk in Helmand province in a Ridgeback protected patrol vehicle at 10pm on June 23 2010.

Unbeknown to them, Afghan National Police were also in the area and had left a darkly-painted Ranger Car with no lights on parked in the road directly in the 20-tonne Ridgeback's path.

The two-tonne Ranger was so inconspicuous that it was not seen before or after the collision - causing the soldiers to believe they had driven over an improvised explosive device (IED).

After the impact, the Ridgeback veered off the road before rolling into the cold, dark water, overturning then resting on its side - trapping the six occupants inside.

Two managed to escape from the Ridgeback but C/Sgt Horton, 34, L/Cpl Ramsden, 26, Pte Halliday, 20, and Pte Isaac, 20, were unable to due to the water, darkness and their body armour.

David Ridley, coroner for Wiltshire & Swindon, said "valiant" attempts were made to save the men but they drowned before being pulled from the submerged Ridgeback.

He recorded a narrative conclusion, combined with a finding that the men died as a result of a road traffic collision while on active service in Afghanistan, at Salisbury Coroner's Court.

"The vehicle, an ANP Ranger with no lights on, had been parked on the south east corner of the bridge," the coroner said.

"The front section was protruding into the road and lay in the path of the Ridgeback.

"The speed the Ridgeback was travelling at more likely than not was more than 30mph but no more or equal to 40mph. The maximum speed limit on that road was 19mph."

The coroner said the Ridgeback could be likened to an emergency response vehicle travelling to an incident in the UK, which would be permitted to exceed the speed limit.

"The speed of the Ridgeback was a contributory factor in terms of the collision as no evasive action could be taken," he added.

"Another contributory factor was the inconspicuous presence of the unlit and darkly coloured ANP patrol vehicle when set against the dark background."

Mr Ridley said concerns over the safety of Ridgeback and similar vehicles had arisen over six days of evidence - though had not caused or contributed to the deaths in this incident.

He will now write a report to prevent future deaths, containing seven points of concern raised through the inquest concerning the Ridgeback and other similar.

Concerns include the front suspension of the Ridgeback, a height restriction for soldiers operating the remote weapons system on board, lighting and tyre pressures.

Soldiers should also be made aware that tightening of bolts - a regular task for those maintaining the Ridgeback in the collision - should not have to be done often.

Speaking after the inquest on behalf of the bereaved families, Denise Owen, the mother of Pte Halliday, pressed for a "thorough investigation" into the issues raised.

"We note that the coroner has taken on board the evidence he heard in relation to the suspension problems on these vehicles, which occurred as a result of modifications that were made to them by the Ministry of Defence before they were deployed," she said.

"Although this was found not to have contributed to these deaths, we are pleased that it has now, finally, been highlighted as a serious safety issue.

"We hope that the Ministry of Defence will now carry out a thorough investigation into the problems highlighted in the inquest, and that our troops will in future be given vehicles and equipment which are fit for their intended purpose."

C/Sgt Horton was from Runcorn, L/Cpl Ramsden was from Leeds, Pte Halliday was from Wallasey, Merseyside, and Pte Isaac was from the Wirral.

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