A helicopter which crashed on take-off in Afghanistan, killing a British soldier described as a “rising star” in the service and two Canadian troops, was not suitable for the mission, an inquest has heard.
Captain Ben Babington-Browne, 27, was a passenger on the Canadian Griffon CH-146, which was being used as a “taxi” from forward operating base (FOB) Mescal.
The inquest was told that as the aircraft, carrying six people, tried to take off on July 6 2009, a dust bowl was whipped up by the rotor blades, cutting visibility.
At a height of less than 10ft, the helicopter then drifted and its rotors struck a perimeter fence in a corner of the FOB before it crashed and burst into flames.
Capt Babington-Browne, from 22 Engineer Regiment, Royal Engineers, had been strapped in but was seated on the floor of the aircraft on take-off, with his legs dangling out.
Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander William Robley, of the UK Defence Helicopter Flying School, told the inquest that Capt Babington-Browne, of Maidstone, Kent, became trapped.
At County Hall, Maidstone, Lt Cdr Robley agreed that the weight of the aircraft, the altitude and the temperature meant it was not the correct helicopter for that mission.
Deputy coroner for Maidstone and Medway Andrew Campbell-Tiech QC asked: “Would you expect a competent pilot to have understood that this was not the correct helicopter for the mission?”
Lt Cdr Robley said it boiled down to the pilot’s training, adding: “Unless they have been trained, they are on a voyage of discovery.”
The coroner added: “Had you been there, would it have been obvious to you of the risks attached to using the Griffon helicopter in these conditions?”
Lt Cdr Robley replied: “Yes.”
He said he was not aware from the Canadians of any difficulties they had operating the helicopter in the hostile environment.
The inquest heard that the heavy weight of the aircraft was partly due to the large amount of fuel it was carrying.
Dr Michael Powers, counsel for the family of Capt Babington-Browne, suggested there was a conflict between a desire to have an adequate reserve of fuel and to fly within safe limits.
Hearing the evidence was Capt Babington-Browne’s brother Daniel and mother Nina, who withdrew from the hearing at one point as details of her son’s death were disclosed.
Following Capt Babington-Browne’s death, he was described by his senior officers as a “rising star” who had “the world at his feet”. A graphic designer before joining the Army, Capt Babington-Browne completed his officer’s training at Sandhurst.
He became a member of 22 Engineer Regiment in April 2007 and shortly afterwards deployed to Iraq, where he quickly distinguished himself as an “exceptionally gifted leader”.
He volunteered for a six-month tour of Afghanistan, working in the HQ of Nato’s Regional Command (South) in Kandahar.
Relatives, including his mother and brother, described him as a “fine, handsome, warm, intelligent, loving and hilarious young man”. Capt Babington-Browne managed to achieve almost all the high standards and challenges he set himself with hard work and dedication, they said.
The inquest continues.