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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Rotorcraft Report: Red Tape Blamed For Delay of Helo Rescue in Afghanistan

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On Oct. 8, 2008, members of the Oxford Coroner’s Court began an inquest into the death of a British soldier deployed to Afghanistan who was killed by a land mine. Colonel Stuart Tootal, retired commander of the Parachute Regiment’s 3rd Battalion, testified that red tape played a role in the soldier’s death.

The incident occurred on Sept. 6, 2006 in the Kajaki region of Helmand Province when one of two British soldiers on patrol inadvertently detonated a land mine, leaving him seriously injured. Tootal, who was in a remote command center, requested an immediate evacuation of the soldiers by an Army UH-60 Black Hawk, which would have been equipped with a hoist to lift them out of the danger zone, since landing there could have detonated more mines.

Tootal, however, testified that a Black Hawk was not readily available, and that getting one sooner than later was proving impossible because of the red tape Tootal’s staff had to go through with NATO to have one pulled from an assignment elsewhere. A CH-47 Chinook was sent instead.

As the Chinook was arriving, Cpl Mark Wright, who had entered the minefield to give aid to the injured soldier, fell victim to another blast when, in Tootal’s estimation, the heavy helicopter’s downwash detonated a second mine.

Coroner Andrew Walker asked Tootal if anyone considered the possibility that a Chinook could cause a mine to explode. Tootal replied, "We had discussed this but we had a man who was going to bleed to death. We were very alive to the threat and kept saying ‘We need a Black Hawk!’"

Wright was posthumously awarded the George Cross, the second-highest military honor for bravery in the British military.

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