Afghan helicopter crash an accident
The death of a British soldier killed along with two Canadian troops when a helicopter crashed on take-off in Afghanistan was an accident, a coroner has ruled.
The aircraft carrying passenger Captain Ben Babington-Browne, 27, burst into flames after hitting the ground at forward operating base (FOB) Mescall in Zabul Province.
Capt Babington-Browne had boarded the Canadian Griffon CH-146 helicopter at FOB Mescall after carrying out a recce of improvement work needed at the base.
The inquest heard that the soldier, from Maidstone, Kent, was set to return to Kandahar airfield just before 2pm on July 6 2009 when the crash happened.
Capt Babington-Browne, from 22 Engineer Regiment, Royal Engineers, had been strapped in inside the helicopter but seated on the floor on take off, with his legs dangling out of the door.
As the aircraft, carrying six people, tried to take off, a dustball was whipped up by the rotor blades, forcing the pilot at the controls to revert to an instrument-only take-off.
The helicopter then drifted right, hitting a security wall and shattering the pilot windscreen before falling around 8ft to the ground and catching fire.
Both pilots escaped through the windscreen, along with a Canadian passenger, before attempts were made to rescue Capt Babington-Browne and the sixth crew member.
But Capt Babington-Browne - described as a "rising star" by his superiors - died from multiple injuries and inhalation of fire fumes, pathologist Dr Nicholas Hunt found.
The three-day Maidstone inquest heard from Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander William Robley, of the UK Defence Helicopter Flying School, who said the helicopter was not the correct aircraft for that mission.
He said the helicopter was overweight and did not have the performance to conduct the operation safely, and the flying pilot's senses became overloaded.
In addition, the flight crew was insufficiently trained, with the absence of training in dustball take-offs said to be particularly noteworthy, he said.
Requests to help the inquest had been made to the Canadian authorities by asking for evidence from the three surviving crew members.
But assistant coroner for Mid Kent and Medway Andrew Campbell-Tiech QC said the hearing had to proceed without them following an "inordinate delay" by the Canadians.
He said: "A raft of obvious questions concerning the immediate circumstances of Captain Babington-Browne's death has therefore gone unasked and unanswered.
"They include but are certainly not limited to, why was he seated on the floor with his legs hanging out of the open door? Was this his choice?
"If not, then whose? Did anyone at the FOB raise concerns about the chosen landing area? If so, what was done? If nothing, why not?
"How common were dustballs upon take off at FOB Mescall? Why was there no firefighting equipment?"
A Board of Inquiry composed of Canadian forces' members investigated the circumstances surrounding the crash, resulting in a heavily-redacted 70-page report.
The inquest heard that the board found the condition of the landing zone and pilot technique were "direct factors" in the crash.
Indirect factors included incorrect application of aircraft performance charts and the inter-turbine temperature was exceeded, but the mission was "appropriately tasked and authorised".
In addition, pre-deployment training and preparations were not adequate, and 19 recommendations were made.
A second Canadian-commissioned report publicly released last year found that the flying pilot "suffered a loss of situational awareness during the take-off due to the rapid and numerous changes in his focus during the 10 seconds prior to impact as he attempted to stabilise the aircraft and climb away", the inquest was told.
Hearing the evidence at the inquest was Capt Babington-Browne's brother Daniel and mother Nina who also attended two days of the Board of Inquiry's hearing in Ottawa.
Following Capt Babington-Browne's death, he was described by his senior officers as having "the world at his feet".
A graphic designer before joining the Army, Capt Babington-Browne completed his officer's training at Sandhurst.
He became a member of 22 Engineer Regiment in April 2007 and shortly afterwards deployed to Iraq, where he quickly distinguished himself as an "exceptionally gifted leader".
He volunteered for a six-month tour of Afghanistan, working in the headquarters of Nato's Regional Command (South) in Kandahar.
Following the inquest, Ms Babington-Browne told reporters: "The expert witness said that this was quite simply the case of the wrong helicopter for this particular mission.
"It was underpowered and dangerously overloaded. More experienced pilots would have known this and acted accordingly."