IRAQ: RAF CRASH: Tributes for killed servicemen, full of `spirit, self-discipline and professionalism'

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The Independent Online
THE TEN servicemen killed in the RAF Hercules crash which caused the single largest loss of life suffered by British forces in Iraq were yesterday named by the Ministry of Defence.

As floral tributes festooned the home base of the aircraft at RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire, relatives and friends paid tribute to the men, most of whom had served for at least 15 years.

Group Captain Paul Oborn, commander of the station where eight of the dead men were based, said Sunday's tragedy had robbed the base of one of its best crews, full of "spirit, self-discipline and professionalism".

Mr Oborn said: "RAF Lyneham feel this loss intensely. Crew, support personnel and passengers on board were playing a vital role in delivering democracy to the Iraqi people."

The pilot of the Hercules was named as Flight Lieutenant David Stead, 35, who had moved to Lyneham last year.

The officer, who was part of 47 Squadron, which operates with British special forces, had recently fathered his second child.

The highest-ranking officer on board the C-130K was Squadron Leader Patrick Marshall, 39, a staff officer at the RAF's Strike Command in Buckinghamshire who is understood to have been on a routine visit to Iraq.

Also named was Lance Corporal Steven Jones, 25, a member of the Royal Corps of Signals. The communications specialist, from Fareham, Hampshire, is understood to have been attached to the SAS.

In a statement, his family said: "Steve worked hard, played hard and lived life to the max. He was always adventurous, fun loving and had a wicked sense of humour. Steve will forever be in the hearts of those that knew him best."

Clare Bateman-Jones, whose 34-year-old cousin Flight Sergeant Mark Gibson was also on board, said he always wanted to follow his father into the RAF.

She said: "Mark loved being in the RAF and couldn't wait to join when he left school at 18. He was always such a happy guy."

Sergeant Gibson, from Swindon, Wiltshire, leaves a wife, Sheila, and a young daughter.

The others on board the plane were named as: Sergeant Robert O'Connor, 38, an engineering specialist; based at Lyneham, Corporal David Williams, 37, also an engineering specialist at Lyneham; Flight Lieutenant Andrew Smith, 25, a pilot with 47 Squadron; Flight Lieutenant Paul Pardoel, 35, a married Australian navigator who moved to Britain to join the RAF; Master Engineer Gary Nicholson, 42, who was based with 47 Squadron; and Chief Technician Richard Brown, 40, an avionics specialist at Lyneham.

Both the Queen and Tony Blair sent messages of sympathy to the families of the dead men yesterday .