The final salute for victims of helicopter tragedy

Mourners pay their respects as the coffins of five service personnel killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan pass the Memorial Garden in Carterton, Oxfordshire.
Mourners pay their respects as the coffins of five service personnel killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan pass the Memorial Garden in Carterton, Oxfordshire.
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Hundreds of people lined the streets as five British servicemen killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan were repatriated to the UK.

The bodies of Captain Thomas Clarke, Warrant Officer Spencer Faulkner, Corporal James Walters, all of the Army Air Corps (AAC), RAF Flight Lieutenant Rakesh Chauhan and Lance Corporal Oliver Thomas, of the Intelligence Corps, were returned to British soil yesterday.

All five were on a Lynx helicopter that went down in the Takhta Pul district of Kandahar on April 26.

More than 1,000 mourners stood in silence in the sunshine to pay their respects in one of the biggest repatriation ceremonies ever held in the town of Carterton in Oxfordshire.

After a private ceremony at RAF Brize Norton, family members lined the road on Norton Way, clutching flowers including red and white roses, lilies, tulips and daffodils.

The street fell silent when the bell tolled to mark the arrival of the servicemen’s families at the Memorial Garden.

Flag bearers from military organisations from across the country raised their banners and lowered them as the bell tolled again when the hearses drew up.

All five families threw flowers on top of the hearses, with some mourners touching the glass and hearses as they wept.

The coffins, draped with Union flags, were then driven to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford to the applause of the crowds and the peal of bells.

The fatal crash was the worst incident involving a British military helicopter in Afghanistan since the hostilities began there in 2001.

The helicopter in which the men were travelling is believed to have been from AAC 657 Squadron, a top unit based at RAF Odiham which provides support and transport for special forces troops.

The Ministry of Defence has denied claims by the Taliban that insurgents shot the helicopter down, with initial investigations indicating a “tragic accident” as the cause of the crash.

Following the deaths of the five men, the Ministry of Defence and their families issued touching tributes.

Capt Clarke, 30, from Cowbridge, South Wales, was a pilot and “rising star” in the AAC who was “full of life and immensely committed to his soldiers and friends”.

WO Faulkner, 38, was an “experienced aviator, loving husband and hugely dedicated father to two children”.

He had been deployed to Afghanistan on numerous occasions.

Cpl Walters, 36, was also a “highly respected” junior non-commissioned officer who had deployed to Afghanistan on numerous occasions.

Known as Rak to his comrades, Flt Lt Chauhan, 29, from Birmingham, was said to be “charming, funny and sharp as a tack”.

The family of L/Cpl Thomas, 26, from Brecon in Powys, Mid Wales, described him as a “truly amazing person, living his life to the full, while fulfilling some of his many dreams and adventures”.

Group Captain Richard Maddison, Station Commander at RAF Odiham, where all of the five men except L/Cpl Thomas were based, said: “They were fine ambassadors for their unit and for defence as a whole, and we shall not forget them.”