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'All hell broke loose and I... don't know what happened'

Video shows soldiers standing in direct sight of landmine

SHILO, Man. -- Three days after leading a training exercise that went horribly wrong and killed a fellow soldier, warrant officer Paul Ravensdale told a military investigator he had no idea what caused the accident.

"All hell broke loose and I honestly don't know what happened," Ravensdale is heard saying in a recorded interview played Tuesday at his court martial at CFB Shilo in Manitoba.

"I honestly felt I did everything right."

Ravensdale, who is now retired, faces six charges -- including manslaughter and unlawfully causing bodily harm -- in the accident that occurred on a weapons range in Afghanistan on Feb. 12, 2010.

Soldiers were testing anti-personnel landmines, C-19s, that were new to the mission.

When the landmines are detonated during tests, soldiers are supposed to be far behind the weapons, sheltered in dugouts or inside vehicles, prosecutors have said.

Ravensdale is accused of ignoring those rules by letting soldiers stand near the weapons without any cover.

The first set of mines was set off without any trouble. During the second firing, some of the 700 small steel balls packed inside one mine shot backwards instead of forward.

Four balls struck Cpl. Josh Baker, including one in the chest that killed him. Four other soldiers suffered puncture wounds -- one had an injured kidney.

Ravensdale told the investigator he had given a safety briefing on the range in which he told everyone to stand well back of the weapon and behind light armoured vehicles, or LAVs.

He gave the order to set off the weapon and the soldier charged with the detonation did so.

The force of the explosion surprised him, he told the investigator.

"It sounded a hell of a lot bigger than it should have been."

Prosecutor Maj. Tony Tamburro said outside the hearing that even if the explosion went awry, the soldiers should have been protected.

"The prosecution is alleging that... had the safety regulations been followed, regardless of why the ball bearings fired backwards, people would have been safe."

Tamburro played a short video of the first firing, which shows two soldiers beside -- not behind -- a LAV and in direct sight of the landmine.

"They were not under cover, so there was nothing between them and the (mines) being detonated," he later told reporters.

The video was shot by Master Cpl. Scott Lawrence, a medic who testified he only had "his armour and the camera" between himself and the landmine.

Under cross-examination by Ravensdale's lawyer, Lawrence admitted he felt safe where he was standing.

"I did feel I was not in danger at that point," Lawrence said. "I felt fairly safe, with the armour I was wearing."

Lawrence tended to the wounded after the accident and recalled performing CPR on Baker, who was medevaced by helicopter with the other injured soldiers.

Ravensdale would later tell the investigator he was puzzled as to how he managed to escape injury while others were hit. "I honestly don't know why I didn't get hit."

Two other soldiers have already been convicted in the accident.

Maj. Christopher Lunney has been demoted to captain and given a severe reprimand after pleading guilty to negligent performance of duty in the incident.

Maj. Darryl Watts is awaiting sentencing on charges of negligence and unlawfully causing bodily harm.

Ravensdale's court martial is expected to last three weeks.

 

-- The Canadian Press

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