Crash of armoured vehicle kills Canadian soldier in Kandahar
17:33:44 EST Mar 2, 2006
An injured Canadian soldier is loaded on a U.S. helicopter on Thursday at Camp Nathan Smith for transport to Kandahar Airfield where a more sophisticated hospital is available after a Canadian armoured vehicle went off the road while on patrol, killing one soldier and injuring seven. (CP PHOTO/Les Perreaux)
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CP) - Rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs get everyone's attention, but it is the motor vehicle accident that is killing and maiming more Canadian troops in Afghanistan.
The pattern was repeated again Thursday when a 21-tonne armoured vehicle collided with a taxi, swerved into a ditch and flipped, killing Cpl. Paul Davis of Bridgewater, N.S., and injuring seven other people.
Two of the wounded soldiers are in serious condition. Canadian doctors sent Pte. Miguel Chavez, originally of El Salvador, to a U.S.-run hospital in Landstuhl, Germany. Master Cpl. Timothy Wilson of Grande Prairie, Alta., was the other soldier in critical condition.
Canadian officials suggested the taxi might have failed to yield at an intersection, triggering the accident.
In the weeks since Canada beefed up its presence in Afghanistan, at least 11 people have been injured in three military vehicle accidents compared to one injury in an attack.
Members of Bravo Company of the Second Batallion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry based in Shilo, Man., have suffered most of the recent casualties.
"Right now it seems like we're having some bad luck," said a downcast Capt. Jay Adair, the second-in-command of Bravo Company.
Adair struggled to be diplomatic as he described the chaos on Afghanistan's pockmarked and potholed roads, where the few signs that exist are usually ignored and few drivers have licences or training.
Canadian soldiers are also constantly dodging the invisible threat of ambush, roadside bombs and suicide attackers.
"Until someone's been on an Afghan road, they won't know what it's like," Adair said.
"I don't think there is the level of skill among Afghan drivers that there is among Canadian drivers. The roads are certainly not in as good of shape as Canadian roads. I'm not aware of very many rules on Afghan roads."
Going back about four months, accidents have killed two soldiers and injured at least 14, compared to one Canadian civilian death and about 10 soldiers wounded from enemy action.
Jittery Canadians have played their own part in the mayhem on the streets of Kandahar. Keenly aware of the risk of attack, soldiers have adopted aggressive driving tactics, moving along at high speed and often forcing local vehicles off the road.
After two accidents last month, soldiers were told to slow down.
"It's an amazingly different environment, and these young Canadians have a huge adjustment on their hands," said Col. Tom Putt, deputy commander of Canadian troops in Afghanistan.
Soldiers routinely yell and swear when cars, pedestrians and cyclists come too close to the so-called "bubble," the zone around convoys where other vehicles are discouraged from entering.
Some soldiers have fired warning shots into the front of vehicles.
In return, the soldiers get dirty looks from adults and the occasional stone thrown by children.
The deadly crash happened just before 10 a.m. Thursday on a routine patrol from the main Canadian base at Kandahar airfield. The soldiers were heading out to meet local Afghan officials.
After hitting the taxi, soldiers say the light armoured vehicle - known as the LAV III - went into a ditch, flipped twice and came to a rest on its wheels in a cloud of dust about 15 metres from the road. The gun turret and rear axle were detached from the main body of the mammoth eight-wheeled vehicle.
"I was taken aback," said Sgt. Chris von Schmeling, a medic who was among the first on the scene.
It was "a bit of a mish-mash," he said. "The turret had come out, some of the wheels came off the back end."
One soldier ended up trapped beneath the turret but survived. Schmeling noted that many of the soldiers were wearing seatbelts, which probably prevented more serious injuries.
A medic who was on the patrol quickly evaluated the casualties, deciding who needed to be evacuated first.
He did "a lot of moving around and sorting out which guy is going where, who is worse, who is better," said Master Cpl. Derek Roberton, another medic who arrived quickly on the scene.
"It looks a bit like mass confusion, but it was actually under control."
A U.S. Blackhawk helicopter was dispatched from the airfield and a quick-reaction force moved in by road from Camp Nathan Smith, the smaller base for the Canadian provincial reconstruction team.
Four soldiers were immediately flown to the airfield hospital, including Davis.
"A Canadian surgical team looked after the soldiers," Putt said in an interview.
"Unfortunately, one soldier was in grave condition and he did not make it."
Medics drove the three other soldiers and the interpreter to Camp Nathan Smith, where another Canadian medical team was waiting. Two of the injured were later flown to the airfield for X-rays.
The soldiers in stable condition are Pte. Nathan Justice of Dauphin, Man., Pte. Mark Taylor of Prince Rupert, B.C., Pte. Thomas Wong of Edmonton, Alta. and Sgt. Darren Haggerty of London, Ont.
Capt. Adrian Norbash, a doctor who treated some of the patients, said the biggest concerns are head, back and neck injuries.
Norbash said he's not surprised by the rash of vehicle accidents.
"Even in the most combat-intensive operations, you still see a large share of your casualties coming from non-combat incidents like this," Norbash said. "I don't think it's out of the ordinary."
Tributes quickly flowed for Davis Thursday, including from his father, Jim Davis, in Bridgewater, N.S.
"I'm extremely proud of my son Paul; very, very proud and 100 per cent supportive of the military and what they're trying to accomplish," Jim Davis said.
"He died in the service of his country and he died doing the service for the free world."
In a statement, Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor said "the death of Corporal Davis is a loss for all Canadians."
"This is a sad day and our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Cpl. Paul Davis."
Adair said Davis was "a brother."
"Bravo Company, and I mean this sincerely, is very much a band of brothers," he said. "We've lost a brother, and it's going to affect us all.
"We'll mourn together and we'll carry on and see this mission through."
Last November, a Canadian soldier was killed and four were injured when a LAV-III swerved to avoid a civilian vehicle and ran off a road near Kandahar.
Ten Canadians have died in Afghanistan since 2002.
The PPCLI are damned fine troops.