Afghan blast soldier Lance Corporal Jamie Evans 'was not wearing seatbelt'

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The Independent Online

A soldier who was launched from an armoured vehicle in an explosion in Afghanistan today told an inquest he and his commander - who was ejected but did not survive - chose not to wear their "restrictive" seatbelts.

Major Sean Birchall, 33, of 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, was killed when the Jackal armoured vehicle he was in hit an improvised explosive device (IED) near Lashkar Gah in central Helmand province on June 19 last year.

The force of the blast was so great, Maj Birchall and driver Lance Corporal Jamie Evans were both thrown from the Jackal into a nearby canal.

Both soldiers were pulled from the water, but Maj Birchall remained unconscious. He was later pronounced dead at the military hospital in Camp Bastion.

Today, L/Cpl Evans told the inquest at Wiltshire Coroner's Court, sitting at Trowbridge Town Hall, the seatbelts in the Jackal did not fit well over his armour.

Coroner David Ridley asked: "The Jackal is fitted with seatbelts. Were you wearing your seatbelt?"

L/Cpl Evans said: "I personally didn't wear my seatbelt. Personally I found the seatbelt very restrictive with the Osprey body armour."

He added that neither he nor Maj Birchall were wearing their seatbelts, and he did not have many colleagues who chose to do so.

Recalling the incident, L/Cpl Jamie Evans said: "I remember just short of the actual incident there was a hole in the ground.

"A few days before there had been an IED at that explosion, where the Afghan National Army said it had been hit. I believe they took a casualty."

He went on: "As I'm approaching it I speak to Mr Birchall. I said 'this is where the ANA report came in the other day'.

"I remember as I levelled with the hole, he leaned over the seat he says 'that's a big one'. Then that was it."

Mr Ridley asked: "And the next thing you know, you're in the water?"

To which L/Cpl Evans replied: "Yes."

The inquest heard Maj Birchall, a company commander, was in the second position of a three-vehicle patrol, with another Jackal behind and a Mastiff armoured vehicle ahead.

The vehicles were in a "vulnerable" area between checkpoints near the town of Basharan.

Soldiers in the Mastiff vehicle had conducted drills with metal detectors in an attempt to locate IEDs before the incident, the inquest heard.

Warrant Officer Andrew Campbell, who was commanding the rear Jackal, and went to help Maj Birchall after the explosion, said he also found seatbelts restrictive.

He said: "If there's a seatbelt fitted to the vehicle it should be worn. However, it's down to the commander on the ground at the time to make that decision."

He added: "I never wore a seatbelt, because it was just too restrictive. If anything happens, you've got to think about taking it off, it gets caught on equipment. It's all about risk management."