Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ex-soldier apologizes for landmine fatality

Role in training accident could bring life term

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SHILO, Man. -- A retired soldier who led an Afghanistan training exercise in which an accident left one colleague dead and four injured apologized Tuesday for his role in the tragedy.

"I feel horrible and I would like to extend my deepest sorrow, regret and remorse," former warrant officer Paul Ravensdale said at his sentencing hearing before a court martial on four charges, including breach of duty causing death.

The maximum penalty for breach of duty causing death is life in prison, although the prosecution and defence have yet to reveal what sentences they will seek. That could happen as early as today.

Ravensdale was also convicted of breach of duty causing bodily harm, unlawfully causing bodily harm and negligent performance of military duty.

"My intent wasn't to go over and have this happen. My intent was to go over and do some good."

The tall, bearded 43-year-old appeared tired and sluggish during his testimony. He is on anti-depressants and other medications and took a pill as he started talking about the fateful training exercise he led near Kandahar on Feb. 12, 2010.

"I have been diagnosed with major depression and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). I have to take a variety of medications to stay calm and go to bed at night," he said. "I can't move on. Every day, I relive Feb. 12."

Ravensdale was leading a test of C-19 anti-personnel mines on a weapons range when one mine misfired and sent hundreds of steel ball bearings in the wrong direction. Instead of fanning out forward, the bearings shot backward toward watching soldiers.

Some of the projectiles hit and killed Cpl. Josh Baker, 24.

Ravensdale was convicted of ignoring the operating manual for C-19 mines and of neglecting Canadian Forces training safety rules, which require soldiers to be at least 100 metres behind the mines or shielded from them. Video at the court martial showed some soldiers standing much closer and unprotected.

Josh Baker's commanding officer, Lt.-Col. Michael Prendergast, testified earlier Tuesday the death affected the entire unit.

"To us... it was quite a senseless death. We all thought it could have been preventable."

Ravensdale said he does not know why the mine went off the way it did, and he instructed soldiers to stay behind a row of light armoured vehicles (LAVs) parked on the range.

"You didn't make sure people were behind the LAVs, did you?" asked the prosecutor, Maj. Tony Tamburro.

"I assumed people would have been listening to my directions," Ravensdale replied.

The hearing also heard from Baker's mother, who said her son's death has left her with nothing to live for.

"When my son breathed his last breath on that day in Afghanistan, my life ended," Janet Baker testified. "There is no life anymore... just an existence, a shell walking around."

She appeared gaunt and tired as she spoke, frequently wiped tears from her eyes and broke down as she recalled the moment a military notification team told her her son was dead.

"I just bent over and I screamed for Joshua... 'Dear God, no!"'

Later, she said, she watched as her son's coffin was taken off a military plane and to a funeral home, where she held him one last time.

"I told him, 'I will miss you, son, until I see you in heaven.' "

Ravensdale faced the most serious charges stemming from the accident because he gave the order to fire and was the weapons range safety officer that day.

Days after the accident, he told a military investigator he had no idea why the mine misfired. He said the blast was much louder than it should have been and "all hell broke loose."

His lawyer told the court martial last month Ravensdale was following a training plan approved by his superiors and could not have foreseen the accident.

Two of his superiors have already been convicted. Maj. Darryl Watts was demoted two ranks to lieutenant and given a severe reprimand on charges of negligence and unlawfully causing bodily harm. Maj. Christopher Lunney was demoted one rank to captain and given a severe reprimand after pleading guilty to negligent performance of duty.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 6, 2013 A8

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