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'I believe we are in the open:' witness to court martial about fatal blast

Maj. Darryl Watts (right) arrives for court martial proceedings in Calgary, Alberta on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012. Watts is charged with the death of a soldier and injuries to others on a training range in Afghanistan in 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal

CALGARY - The dangers of the Claymore anti-personnel mine were made abundantly clear to soldiers at an Afghanistan training range before an accident that killed a young corporal, a court martial heard Thursday.

Two witnesses at the hearing for Calgary reservist Maj. Darryl Watts testified that Warrant Officer Paul Ravensdale, the range safety officer, had stressed the possible consequences of using the C19.

"He was clear about the duties when handling it. He gave a very thorough briefing with the C19," said Master Cpl. Scott Lawrence, a medic who was on the range, four kilometres north of Kandahar city, on Feb. 13, 2010.

"He was clear about soldiers being back behind the (firing) lanes."

Cpl. Josh Baker, 24, died when the explosive device, packed with 700 steel balls, raked a Canadian Forces platoon. He was struck four times and one of the steel balls penetrated his chest.

Four other soldiers were also wounded.

A video taken during the fatal blast appears to show Watts and a number of other soldiers directly in the line of fire when the C19 exploded.

"We were supposed to be behind the lanes," said Cpl. Nathan Armstrong, who prepared one of the Claymores prior to the blast.

"I would say no. I don't believe we are (behind cover). I believe we are in the open there," he said as the video was shown a second time.

A voice crying "medic" was heard twice at the end of the video.

"We stood up to see why medic was being called," said Armstrong.

"Sgt. (Mark) McKay was coming toward me. He was pale and I noticed the blood start coming from his leg. I saw the panic on his face."

The prosecution alleges Watts allowed his men to practise with the C19 without any proper training and with "wanton, reckless disregard."

Watts, 44, who was in charge of the range the day of the accident, is charged with manslaughter, unlawfully causing bodily harm, breach of duty and negligent performance of duty.

A series of other videos from the firing range taken by Lawrence were shown in court.

One, from an earlier successful firing of the C19, shows him standing next to a light armoured vehicle. There's a loud boom, followed by a cloud of dust, then the metallic ping of something ricocheting off a vehicle.

Lawrence said the "vast majority" of the soldiers were huddled behind the vehicles. But he admitted neither he nor the soldier who pulled the trigger on the device were behind cover.

Watts's lawyer, Balfour Der, emphasized that point.

"It seems clear that despite being warned by their officer to take cover and be behind cover ó that some of them took some liberties with it," said Der in an interview outside court.

Another video shows Ravensdale giving a safety briefing. He warns soldiers to be careful, especially when loading, and extols the virtues of the C19.

"As you saw it doesn't bring buildings down but it's one hell of a grenade," he said.

Former corporal Adam Elfner, who had received C19 training before being deployed, confirmed that the soldiers had been fully briefed before the accident.

He and a number of others were picking up spent shells as part of a cleanup of the range while the C19 was being fired.

"I had a feeling that they may have been too far forward," Elfner said.

"I shrugged my shoulders up so I was more protected. It was just a feeling."

Elfner said he didn't worry about being beyond the firing line since they were between 75 and 100 metres to the right.

"We seemed far enough away."


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