Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 2007 Colour Sergeant Mark Powell, the Parachute Regiment, and Sergeant Mark McLaren, Royal Air Force, were killed when two Puma helicopters crashed in Iraq.
They had been part of a five Puma task force on a Special Forces mission targeting an l-Qa'eda stronghold fifteen miles south east of Baghdad, where terrorists were making car bombs and armour-penetrating missiles. At the inquest it was heard that their helicopter came into land after the lead helicopter had landed. The coroner said: "As Puma Two descended to land its main rotor blades came into contact with Puma One's main rotor blade. As a result Puma One's tail boom broke and it yawed left, rotated and moved some three feet across the ground. Its main rotor blades were shredded. A jolt was felt in Puma Two, it started to yaw left and roll to its right. Sections of the blade broke off and flew through the air. A dynamic roll-over occurred. It came to rest on its right side. The tail flung over the top of the aircraft. As it rolled the crewman, who was Sgt McLaren, fell out of the right end cabin door. Sgt Powell, had been sitting in the right-hand cabin doorway. He and Sgt McLaren were found trapped underneath the aircraft."
The pilot, who had undertaken a number of tours in Iraq, told the inquest that the minimum distance required between aircraft when landing was 10ft, but that he was not specifically trained to land so close to moving objects, including rotor blades, and that the closest he had ever landed to another aircraft was between 15-20 feet: “In the training, we would land helicopters together, but not with the express intention to judge a 10ft distance between the rotors.” Guidelines have since been introduced to clarify the recommended separation distance between aircraft. He also stated that Puma helicopters had a fault with the auto-pilot which caused them to unexpectedly kick to the side, and that to correct this fault one of the auto-pilot functions would be switched off, requiring the use of foot-pedals.
Colour Sergeant Powell’s brother said: “Everybody is devastated by the tragic news and the loss of a courageous and dedicated individual. Mark had been a soldier for 17 years and died doing a job he loved. He wouldn't have done anything else. We are very proud of him. Since he was very young he always wanted to be in the services.” He was remembered by others as “a lovely bloke, a friendly regular guy” and noted on the MoD fatalities site as “an exemplary combat leader, soldier, father, husband, friend and Briton, dedicated to his family, his men, his mission and his country. In the finest traditions of the Army and his regiment he was utterly selfless, never shirking danger, effort or hard service in the pursuit of his mission.”
Colour Sergeant Powell, from Porthcawl in South Wales, was 37 years old and married with a daughter.
Of Sergeant McLaren, Wing Commander Chris Hunter, Officer Commanding 230 Squadron RAF Aldergrove, said: “Sgt McLaren had a positive attitude towards everything he did and a level of self-motivation that was second to none. As an Air Loadmaster he was the master of his trade, a consummate professional and committed team player. When flying on operations in either the UK or Iraq he always performed at the top of his game and it was a pleasure to fly with him when you were crewed up together. Sgt McLaren had been selected to attend the RAF Helicopter Tactics Instructors Course, students of which must demonstrate the highest professional standards in the air. As a senior non-commissioned officer, we knew this was only the beginning of what would have been a distinguished career.”
Sergeant McLaren, from Ashington in Northumberland, was 27 years old and married with two sons.