Tyne & Wear

L/Cpl Christopher Roney: US pilots recall friendly fire attack

L/Cpl Christopher Roney
Image caption L/Cpl Christopher Roney died a day after being injured

US helicopter pilots who fired on a UK base in Afghanistan, killing a 23-year-old soldier, acted on information from the British Army, an inquest has heard.

L/Cpl Christopher Roney, of 3rd Battalion The Rifles, died and 11 were injured in the attack at Base Almas, in Sangin, Helmand, in December 2009.

The inquest heard British commanders asked for US air support after a Taliban bomb attack on the base.

But the aircraft mistook UK soldiers for insurgents and fired on them.

The attack went on for seven minutes before the mistake was realised, the inquest in Sunderland was told.

In statements from four unnamed pilots and co-pilots which were read out, Coroner Derek Winter heard how the crews of the Apaches were flying in the area when they saw the explosion from the Taliban bomb, followed by a tracer fire.

Body armour

The Apaches, which had the call-signs Luger 67 and Luger 61, were asked by British commanders to assist and a series of grid references were passed on.

Luger 67 and 61 were directed to a compound and were told to look for three men on a roof - who were believed to be insurgents but were actually British soldiers fighting off the Taliban.

The crews were authorised to fire and Luger 67 passed over the compound twice as Luger 61 covered.

The Apaches were eventually called off and waited in the area while other helicopters were summoned to evacuate casualties.

The pilot of Luger 61 said in his statement how he noted the men on the ground were wearing vests and what appeared to be body armour.

L/Cpl Roney, from Sunderland could not survive his injuries and died the next day.

Strafing runs

Earlier, the inquest heard how British officer Capt Christopher Dadd shouted "stop, stop, stop" when he realised the helicopters were mistakenly attacking the base.

Capt Dadd was in the operations room when he realised what was happening, the inquest was told.

Warrant Officer John Pepper said operations room staff realised the error and tried to halt the attack.

He was in the operations room on the ground some distance away from the base handling information coming in from members of the battlegroup.

WO Pepper said he was watching on a screen as the helicopters made one of three strafing runs when his superior, Capt Dadd, became aware of what was happening.

Carried on firing

WO Pepper told the inquest: "Capt Dadd shouted 'Stop, stop, stop'. That was when everyone realised in the ops room they were attacking Patrol Base Almas.

"He had his head in his hands."

L/Cpl Johnny Cassell told the hearing the leader of the platoon at the patrol base, Capt Palmer Winstanley, appeared to be weeping when he contacted the Ops room to tell them to call off the helicopters.

Cpl Ben Hall, one of the troops who came under fire from the US crew, said his men carried on firing on the enemy, despite the onslaught from above.

Once the Apaches were called off an air strike was called in on the enemy position and a 500lb bomb brought a halt to the Taliban attack.

The inquest is expected to last five days.

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