The families of five “dedicated” British servicemen killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan have paid emotional tributes to their loved ones as they were named by the Ministry of Defence.
Captain Thomas Clarke, Warrant Officer Spencer Faulkner and Corporal James Walters, all of the Army Air Corps (AAC) were serving as the Lynx aircraft’s three-man team when they died.
They lost their lives together with Flight Lieutenant Rakesh Chauhan of the Royal Air Force and Lance Corporal Oliver Thomas of the Intelligence Corps, believed to have been passengers on the flight.
Their helicopter went down in Kandahar province, 30 miles from the border with Pakistan, on Saturday morning.
The MoD has denied claims by the Taliban that insurgents shot the helicopter down, with initial investigations indicating a “tragic accident” rather than enemy action as the cause of the crash.
Group Captain Richard Maddison, Station Commander at RAF Odiham, where all of five men except L/Cpl Thomas were based, said: “As with all losses of personnel in Afghanistan, we mourn the loss of our most capable and dedicated personnel, who served without complaint and in full understanding of the risks associated with their roles.
“They were fine ambassadors for their unit and for defence as a whole, and we shall not forget them.”
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”.
His family, which includes wife Angie, said: “We cannot express enough our devastation at the loss of a truly wonderful husband, son, brother and friend.
“Tom brought so much happiness and love to everyone he knew with his sparkling blue eyes and cheeky smile.
“He had an absolute passion for life and was the best part of us - we are all poorer today without him.”
WO Faulkner, 38, was an “experienced aviator, loving husband and hugely dedicated father to two children” who had been deployed to Afghanistan on numerous occasions.
“Spen was a loving husband to Cally and devoted father to Natasha and Jack, and will be greatly missed,” the pilot’s family said.
“A huge gap has been left in our hearts forever. He has been tragically taken away whilst serving his country, a job he loved. God rest his soul.”
Cpl Walters, 36, known as Bungle, was a “highly respected” junior non-commissioned officer who had deployed to Afghanistan on numerous occasions.
Regularly at the centre of any debate, especially when the subject involved rugby or Cornwall, the helicopter’s gunner was known to be a “consummate professional”.
His bereaved relatives said: “We cannot begin to comprehend the tragic loss of a beautiful and loving husband, daddy, son, and brother. James has left a huge hole in all our hearts.”
Flt Lt Chauhan, 29, from Birmingham, was on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan as an intelligence officer when he died.
Known as Rak to his comrades, he was said to be “charming, funny and sharp as a tack”.
L/Cpl Thomas, 26, from Brecon in Powys, Mid Wales, had volunteered for deployment to Afghanistan and arrived there in December last year.
His family described him as a “truly amazing person, living his life to the full, while fulfilling some of his many dreams and adventures”.
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.
Explaining the role of 657 Squadron in special forces operations, defence analyst Paul Beaver said: “These are units which support special forces across the board.
“Pilots and aircrews are selected for their ability to carry out these special tasks.
“Pilots are selected for their flying skills and length of term.
“Most will at least be on their second or third tour and more is expected of them than of others.”
The aircraft went down in the Takhta Pul district of Kandahar, in what was the worst incident involving a British military helicopter in Afghanistan since the war began there in 2001.
An investigation led by the Military Aviation Authority is under way to establish the cause of the crash, but the rest of the Lynx helicopters deployed in Afghanistan have not been grounded.
After paying tribute to the victims, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: “Lynx Mk 9A helicopters have a good operational safety record and commanders have judged that it is safe for the fleet to continue to operate while the investigation is carried out.”
The crash caused the third biggest single loss of life of British troops since the conflict in Afghanistan began and brought the total number of service personnel killed there to 453.
Yesterday’s incident equals the previous worst disaster involving a British helicopter, when a Lynx aircraft crashed in Basra City, Iraq, in May 2006 killing the five service personnel on board.
Nato forces are currently preparing to withdraw combat troops by the end of this year, with responsibility for fighting the Taliban uprising handed over to the Afghan army and police.
So far this year, 23 Nato troops are thought to have been killed in Afghanistan.