Inquest told of 'rogue' US attack on British convoy
London Guardian | January 31, 2007
A group of British soldiers yesterday described their frantic attempts to stop an attack on their convoy by "rogue" US warplanes that left one dead and four injured.
Oxfordshire coroner's court heard that two US A10 planes opened fire on a patrol in southern Iraq in March 2003, killing Lance Corporal of Horse Mattie Hull three days before his 26th birthday.
Yesterday his colleagues told the court that the "friendly fire" incident had happened on a clear day as they patrolled an area about 30 miles north-west of Basra.
Staff Corporal Ashley Bell said there had been a flash as the first attack started. He had immediately radioed forward air control with the "Stop, stop, stop" instruction but had been told the planes were being flown by "rogue US pilots".
"[The controller] could not contact the US pilots because they had switched frequencies and were talking to each other."
Soldiers in the five-vehicle convoy released smoke canisters to identify them to friendly pilots. The smoke was visible as one of the planes returned at low level and attacked a second time.
L/Cpl Steven Gerrard said: "Something exploded, there was just a massive flash ... I just shouted to everyone to get out."
L/Cpl Chris Finney, 19, who was awarded the George Cross, went back to the burning wreckage twice in an attempt to rescue his colleagues. He said: "At first there were sparks everywhere and the vehicles stopped, they obviously had been stopped by something. I couldn't actually see what had hit us or where from." He realised there were still people inside as he took cover. He said: "I looked back at my vehicle to see my gunner trying to get out."
The Oxfordshire assistant deputy coroner, Andrew Walker, said the gunner was suffering from a large leg wound. L/Cpl Finney, then a trooper with just one year's experience, pulled him out of the burning vehicle and gave him medical treatment.
As he did so, he was aware that a type of smoke used by coalition forces to indicate a friendly fire incident had been released. "I was still with my gunner on the floor at this point, and the plane came back into view to start its second run."
The inquest heard that although he had been injured he went back to L/Cpl Hull's tank to try to save whoever was inside, but flames forced him back.
Despite requests by the coroner and the British government, the pilots of the US planes that shot Corporal Hull have never been publicly named and will not attend the inquest.
The inquest continues.
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