Master corporal Paul Ravensdale pleads not guilty in Afghanistan training accident

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

SHILO, Man. – Master corporal Paul Ravensdale showed “wanton and reckless disregard” for the lives of his colleagues when he led a training accident that left one soldier dead and four seriously injured, a prosecutor told a court martial Monday.

“No soldier needs to die on a range,” Prosecutor Maj. Tony Tamburro said in his opening statement.

“(Ravensdale) gave the order to fire those C-19s while his troops were in the danger zone and not undercover.”

Ravensdale, who is now retired, is the third soldier to face a court martial in the Feb. 12, 2010 incident on a weapons training range in Afghanistan. He is accused of manslaughter, unlawfully causing bodily harm, two counts of breach of duty and two counts of negligence.

The soldiers were testing anti-personnel landmines, C-19s, that were new to the mission. When the landmines are detonated during tests, soldiers are supposed to be at least 100 metres behind or sheltered by being in dugouts or inside vehicles.

Instead, military personnel were walking close by, completely unprotected, Tamburro said, and all of it was captured on video to be shown Tuesday.

“The video will show people walking around or standing fully upright in direct line sight of the C-19.”

Something went wrong when the C-19 was set off. Instead of projecting forward, some of the 700 steel balls inside shot backward, piercing through the flesh of four soldiers.

Four balls struck Cpl. Josh Baker, including a chest shot that killed him. Four others suffered puncture wounds — one had an injured kidney.

Ravensdale pleaded not guilty to all six charges Monday. Dressed in a grey suit, he sat beside his two lawyers and paid close attention throughout the proceedings.

Ravensdale was a weapons expert described as “very stoic, calm, capable” by his commanding officer, Maj. Christopher Lunney. Lunney has since been demoted to captain and given a severe reprimand after pleading guilty to negligent performance of duty in the incident.

The other soldier charged in the incident, Maj. Darryl Watts, is awaiting sentencing on charges of negligence and unlawfully causing bodily harm.

Lunney told the court martial Monday he made a mistake in appointing Ravensdale as both the person in charge of the test and the range safety officer that day — protocol requires the tasks be given to different people for weapons such as the C-19.

Lunney was at the range when the accident happened. He recalled being about 100 metres away and helping medics afterward.

He also recalled noticing something. The steel balls had struck light armoured vehicles that were parked behind the C-19. Tires were punctured, antennas were bent and the vehicle’s bodies had small dents in them.

But Tamburro wanted to know if any of the vehicles, which would have been safe areas for the soldiers, penetrated by the steel balls?

“None”, Lunney replied.

Ravensdale’s court martial is expected to last three weeks.