Two British soldiers – including one from the North East – died in a fire that engulfed their tent as they slept at Camp Bastion, an inquest has heard.
Privates Dean Hutchinson, 23, from Spennymoor in County Durham, lost his life alongside Rob Wood, 28, when flames swept through a logistical centre at the Helmand province HQ in the early hours of February 14 2011.
Privates Wood and Hutchinson – plus one survivor – were sleeping in the tented office so they could respond more quickly when vital supplies arrived.
Firefighters on the base were quickly at the scene but were unable to save the two men, who served with The Royal Logistic Corps.
The soldiers were identified by dental records, the inquest in Salisbury, Wiltshire, heard. The men had been on duty on the night of February 13 in the 18ft by 24ft Transport Troop tent and were on standby in case any equipment needed unloading from flights arriving at the base.
In an opening statement read to the court, David Ridley, Coroner for Wiltshire and Swindon, said: “There is a tent where it is common practice for on-duty personnel to sleep although someone has to remain awake to answer the phone.
“The tent was heated by a large air conditioning unit whereby warm air was pumped into the tent. The tent has a TV, fridge and kettle.
“Lance Corporal Sikeli Ratu reports they watched TV and he went to sleep about 3am. The lights in the tent were off but the TV was on.
“L/Cpl Ratu awoke, time unknown, and could immediately smell the smell of burnt wires (coming from the area of the TV and kettle). Flames were coming out the tube which ran to the air conditioning unit. L/Cpl Ratu got out of his sleeping bag and ran to the door. As he ran out white plastic was already falling off the ceiling. He shouted to Woody and Hutch to get out but there was no response.
“L/Cpl Ratu states that he heard Pte Hutchinson call his name out but by this time the fire had taken hold and was all over the side of the tent and the entrance.”
The inquest heard that by the time firefighters arrived at the scene the blaze had taken hold of the tent with flames approximately 3ft high and only the metal tent poles remaining of the structure.
Pte Wood, known as “Woody”, had become a father to a boy – Noah – shortly before he died. He was a driver port operator, posted to 17 Port and Maritime Regiment, and lived in Marchwood, Hampshire.
Pte Hutchinson was a driver and had seven years’ service with the Army.
The inquest continues.