A Sunderland soldier was killed in Afghanistan after being hit by fire from a US Apache helicopter which wrongly identified his base as an enemy stronghold, a coroner said today.
Lance Corporal Christopher Roney, 23, of 3rd Battalion The Rifles, died from head injuries he suffered while serving at Patrol Base Almas, in Sangin, Helmand, in December 2009.
The base had come under attack from insurgents and the platoon based there were busy fighting them off when air support was called in, Coroner Derek Winter said.
A drone fitted with a camera and two US Apaches flew to the patrol base, which was a compound with mud walls, bought from a local owner some weeks before and was not on official maps.
British troops on the ground, who by this stage had won a firefight against their attackers, were incorrectly identified as the enemy and they were hit by 30mm chain gun rounds.
Mr Winter, the Sunderland Coroner, said 200 rounds were fired before the mistake was spotted, leaving 11 injured on the ground.
L/Cpl Roney, a married former drayman, received emergency treatment but died from his injuries the next day.
Mr Winter said the mistaken view that the British base was an insurgents' compound was shared with key personnel.
This was despite the patrol base, 3km from Forward Operating Base Jackson, having a flagpole, a washing line, defensive constructions and personnel who were not dressed like the enemy, Mr Winter said.
Captain Palmer Winstanley, commanding L/Cpl Roney's platoon, said that night insurgents set off a large bomb and launched an attack with small arms fire.
He told the inquest his men managed to repel the attackers.
"We were pretty much winning the firefight which means we pushed them back to a safe distance and hopefully they were going to move off into the night," he said.
Then the base came under heavy attack from what he later realised were Apaches.
"It was like nothing I have ever experienced before and I tried to establish what it could be," he said.
At first he believed the explosions and shrapnel were caused by enemy rocket-propelled grenades fired from 800m and exploding in the air above them.
He also wondered if the enemy had breached the compound defences in the dark.
He did not know how long the Apache attack lasted or how many passes the helicopters made.
Men were injured, a communication mast destroyed and the picture became confused as he was unaware any Apaches were in the area.
He said at around the same time, his men and staff at HQ realised the US attack helicopters were to blame.
Meanwhile, the enemy, who had been moving away, saw what happened and came back to renew the assault and got to within 30m of the base.
A 500lb bomb was dropped on a compound the insurgents were using to launch fire on Almas, and their raid ended.
Asked by William Roney, the soldier's brother, if the Apache's presence was needed, Captain Winstanley replied: "We could have won the firefight ... As we were, we were OK."
The inquest is expected to last a week.
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