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Pair 'died in Bastion tent blaze'

Two British soldiers died in a fire that engulfed their tent as they slept at Camp Bastion, an inquest has heard.

Privates Rob Wood, 28, and Dean Hutchinson, 23, lost their lives when flames swept through a logistical centre at the Helmand province HQ in the early hours of February 14 2011.

Privates Wood and Hutchinson - plus one survivor - were sleeping in the tented office so they could respond more quickly when vital supplies arrived.

Firefighters on the base were quickly at the scene but were unable to save the two men, who served with The Royal Logistic Corps.

The soldiers were identified by dental records, the inquest in Salisbury, Wiltshire, heard.

The men had been on duty on the night of February 13 in the 18ft by 24ft Transport Troop tent and were on standby in case any equipment needed unloading from flights arriving at the base.

In an opening statement read to the court, David Ridley, Coroner for Wiltshire and Swindon, said: "There is a tent where it is common practice for on-duty personnel to sleep although someone has to remain awake to answer the phone.

"The tent was heated by a large air conditioning unit whereby warm air was pumped into the tent.

"The tent has a TV, fridge and kettle.

"Lance Corporal Sikeli Ratu reports they watched TV and he went to sleep about 3am.

"The lights in the tent were off but the TV was on.

"L/Cpl Ratu awoke, time unknown, and could immediately smell the smell of burnt wires (coming from the area of the TV and kettle).

"Flames were coming out the tube which ran to the air conditioning unit.

"L/Cpl Ratu got out of his sleeping bag and ran to the door.

"As he ran out white plastic was already falling off the ceiling.

"He shouted to Woody and Hutch to get out but there was no response.

"L/Cpl Ratu states that he heard Pte Hutchinson call his name out but by this time the fire had taken hold and was all over the side of the tent and the entrance."

The inquest heard that by the time firefighters arrived at the scene the blaze had taken hold of the tent with flames approximately 3ft high and only the metal tent poles remaining of the structure.

Pte Wood, known as "Woody", had become a father to a boy - Noah - shortly before he died. He was a driver port operator, posted to 17 Port and Maritime Regiment, and lived in Marchwood, Hampshire.

Pte Hutchinson, from Spennymoor, County Durham, was a driver and had seven years' service with the Army.

Private Dennis Chhetri, of The Royal Logistic Corps, told the inquest how he had been woken by Pte Hutchinson at 3.30am because a plane had landed.

Pte Chhetri said he and Pte Apenai Burarau then left the tent to go to the runway. Pte Chhetri said that he became aware of the blaze at around 5.30am while at the Freight Rendevous Area, some 400 metres away from where his colleague slept.

"I was dropping off the load from the flight when we saw the sparks and flames coming out of the tent," Pte Chhetri said. "At first I thought it was the ammunition tent as there was quite a sound and I thought that was going off.

"When I saw the fire I ran down... everything was alight."

Pte Chhetri said he raised the alarm and when he returned to the scene he saw L/Cpl Ratu.

"He was in a state of shock. He didn't know what was going on - he was quite shocked," Pte Chhetri said.

The soldier said he did not know how long it took for the fire brigade to arrive but said "it felt like a long time".

Pte Chhetri told the inquest that he did not remember whether there were smoke alarms fitted in the tent but the coroner referred him to his statement of three years ago which said there were.

Earlier the inquest, which is due to last two weeks, heard evidence from Acting Lt Colonel Steve Cornell, who was the commanding officer of the General Support Squadron.

Lt Col Cornell said the Transport Troop tent was located in front of the Quartermaster's Tent and during the course of the tour the first tent had been extended a few days before the blaze to house members of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, who work closely with The Royal Logistic Corps.

The coroner asked Lt Col Cornell whether this extension caused him any concerns.

"I wanted to know two things," he said.

"Firstly, who was working on the light and I wanted to know who was putting the light fitting in.

"It was one of the vehicle electricians and the second thing was that they had fitted a white fire retardant lining."

Lt Col Cornell added: "It looked professional. They pointed out the vehicle electrician did the light and that they had thought about it quite properly."

Lt Col Cornell said he was concerned about the "daisy chaining" of electrical extension sockets and would carry out spot checks within his company's areas to ensure this was not happening.

He said that he would also check that extension sockets had the "CE" mark and also a safety light.

"I expected the whole chain of command to check," he added.


From Belfast Telegraph