A soldier wounded during a fatal training accident in Afghanistan more than two years ago says he thought his platoon was under attack by the Taliban.
Master Cpl. William Pylypow told a Calgary court martial he was in a direct line behind a Claymore C19 anti-personnel device when it went off on Feb. 12, 2010.
“We always presume it’s Taliban, so I thought they got to us,” MCpl. Pylypow said Tuesday.
He was only a metre away from Corporal Josh Baker, 24, who died when the Claymore, packed with 700 steel balls, raked the Canadian Forces platoon on a range four kilometres north of Kandahar city. Cpl. Baker was struck four times and one of the steel balls penetrated his chest.
Four other soldiers, including MCpl. Pylypow, were wounded.
Major Darryl Watts, 44, who was in charge of the Kan Kala range the day of the accident, is charged with manslaughter, unlawfully causing bodily harm, breach of duty and negligent performance of duty.
The prosecution alleges Major Watts allowed his men to practise with the C19 without any proper training and with “wanton, reckless disregard.”
MCpl. Pylypow said he first felt the force of the explosion.
“I got hit with the concussion and then two [ball] bearings hit my right arm. I thought I had lost my arm so pretty much went into shock.”
Master Bombardier Daniel Scott, who had helped set up one of the C19s the soldiers were practising with that day, was also hit.
“I just thought a rock had hit me in the chest,” Master Bombardier Scott said.
“It knocked the wind out of me. I tried to walk it off but I couldn’t get my breath.”
When medics removed his body armour, they discovered his wound. He was later airlifted to hospital at Kandahar Airfield.
Master Bombardier Scott doesn’t remember getting a safety briefing but doesn’t doubt he had received one.
“I just followed what the other infantry guys were doing. Personally I wanted to be in the LAV. I guess a few rocks had been flying back. I just wanted to be safe,” Master Bombardier Scott said. “We had already had a bit of a dangerous mission.
“I thought something was a bit sketchy.”
Corporal Wolfgang Brettner said the Claymore had been thoroughly checked by the range safety officer, Warrant Officer Paul Ravensdale, before the firing.
He said it was facing in the right direction – toward the enemy – was securely placed and didn’t appear to be damaged.
Cpl. Brettner was the one responsible for pulling the trigger and testified everything seemed to be fine initially.
“A couple of seconds after, my arm felt like it was being electrocuted,” he said.
“I didn’t clue in for a few seconds. My arm was bleeding and people behind me were dropping.”
Cpl. Brettner’s right forearm was pierced by a ball bearing that took out a piece of bone before coming out the other side.
He told the military prosecutor he didn’t worry about being in the line of fire since WO Ravensdale didn’t seem concerned how things were being handled.
“I didn’t think anything was wrong. I thought it was safe.”
Major Watts’s lawyer, Balfour Der, said his assessment so far is the prosecution has not succeeded in establishing his client’s guilt.
“The prosecution have not been able to prove what they said at the outset that Major Watts was the person in charge or in control of this range, particularly in control of the C19 explosive,” Mr. Der said.
“It seems pretty clear that Major Watts was not the person in control.”
Military prosecutor Major Tony Tamburro said he expects to wrap up his case by Friday.
He said it doesn’t matter whether Ravensdale was the range safety officer or if there was some sort of malfunction of the C19.
“You can delegate authority to a subordinate to conduct a task on your behalf but you can’t delegate the responsibility for it,” Major Tamburro said.
He suggested that if the soldiers had been behind cover, Cpl. Baker would still be alive and the others wouldn’t have been harmed.
“If the safety rules had been followed and people had been under cover, then it wouldn’t have mattered if it malfunctioned. It wouldn’t have mattered if it was pointed in the wrong direction.”
Outside court, MCpl. Pylypow said he didn’t hold anyone responsible for what happened.
“No, I don’t. It’s a war zone. It’s not intentional. I don’t know if I even want to classify it as an accident. It is combat,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate for that to happen, but blame is something outside of that.”