Briton killed in Afghan helicopter crash

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The Independent Online

A British soldier and two Canadians have died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, Nato said today.

The Briton was from 22 Engineer Regiment, Royal Engineers, the Ministry of Defence said. Next of kin have been informed.

The incident happened yesterday in the southern Zabul province. Nato spokesman Lieutenant Commander Chris Hall said the crash was not caused by insurgent fire.

With another seven American troops killed on the same day, yesterday was one of the worst days for foreign troops in Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001.

Commenting on the latest British casualty, spokesman for Task Force Helmand, Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson said: "Today has been a sad day in the history of Task Force Helmand and this death has deeply moved us.

"The loss of a soldier, friend and colleague is tragic and our thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad time."

His death takes the number of UK service personnel killed in the country since the start of operations in October 2001 to 175.

The helicopter which crashed was a Griffon, which was at an American forward operating base in Zabul, 50 miles north east of Kandahar.

The Canadians who died were named by media as Master Corporal Pat Audet and Corporal Martin Joannette.

Three other Canadians were hurt in the crash, including the two pilots.

The cause of the incident was not immediately clear, but officials were quoted saying it was not the result of enemy activity.

The death of the British soldier means six members of the UK force in Afghanistan have died in less than a week.

Yesterday hundreds of people turned out to pay their respects as the bodies of two of the men - including the highest ranking Army officer to die on operations since the Falklands - were returned to the UK.

Tributes were also paid to three soldiers killed in separate incidents in southern Helmand Province over the weekend.

All five men were taking part in Operation Panchai Palang, or Panther's Claw, a massive mission to improve security ahead of the Afghan presidential election next month.

Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, 39, the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, and Trooper Joshua Hammond, 18, of 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, died in a blast near Lashkar Gah in Helmand on Wednesday.

Their bodies were flown into RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire yesterday morning before being driven through the nearby town of Wootton Bassett in what has become a grim tradition.

Under overcast skies and heavy showers, crowds of soldiers and civilians stood side by side with heads bowed as the cortege passed along the High Street.

Among them was General Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the Army, who said he was "absolutely humbled" by the turnout.

Lance Corporal David Dennis, 29, of the Light Dragoons, and Private Robert Laws, 18, of 2nd Battalion the Mercian Regiment, died in Helmand on Saturday.

L/Cpl Dennis, from Llanelli, South Wales, had just helped secure a helicopter landing site so casualties could be airlifted away for treatment when he was killed by an improvised explosive device.

He leaves behind his mother Adele, twin brother Gareth and his fiancee Lisa, whom he intended to marry on his return to the UK.

The soldier - known as "Duke" - joined the Army as a gunner in 2003 and served in Iraq before deploying on his second tour to Afghanistan this year.

Senior officers praised his dedication to his regiment, skill as an instructor and mentor, and sense of humour.

Lieutenant Colonel Gus Fair, commanding officer of the Light Dragoons Battle Group, said: "With tours of Afghanistan and Iraq behind him, he was experienced beyond his relatively junior years."

He said L/Cpl Dennis had been deeply affected by the death of his close friend Lance Corporal Nigel Moffett, 28, of the Light Dragoons, from Belfast, earlier in the tour.

Pte Laws, from Bromsgrove in Worcestershire, was killed when his vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

He had reached the frontline within a year of starting his basic Army training, deploying to Afghanistan just a few days after his 18th birthday.

His parents and close family said they were "immensely proud" of their "popular and loving son".

Lieutenant Colonel Simon Banton, commanding officer of 2nd Battalion the Mercian Regiment, said: "He was a warm and cheerful young man who mucked in when there was work to be done and quickly made friends."

Another soldier, from the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, was killed by an explosion while on foot in Helmand on Sunday.