Army reviews driver training

By Monique Devereux

The Army will formally review its driver training programme after accidents that have killed five soldiers in the past six months.

In recent years driving has caused more operational deaths than shooting, but the programme will not be stopped while the review goes ahead.

Major Denise MacKay said driver training covered a vast amount of activities, some formal and some informal, ranging from the basic training the dead soldiers had been completing to the ongoing skill gathering senior soldiers picked up in their deployments.

Because of this, the review would take "quite some time", she said last night.

Unimogs like those involved in the Banks Peninsula accident last year and this week's Cromwell crash will continue to be used by some of the Army's youngest and least experienced recruits.

The three soldiers killed on Wednesday had all been in the Army less than a year.

They were Private Ashley Patrick Goodwin, 19, from Motueka, Private Shane Adrian Ohlen, 21, from Wellington, and Private David James Partington, 17, from Waitara.

Private Partington was based at Linton but had transferred to Burnham for the driver training programme He was due to return to the North Island next week.

When he joined the Army last March, Private Goodwin said his niece Amber was "my motivation to get me through basic training and make a better life for myself".

His body was thrown clear as the Unimog crashed over the Kawarau Gorge, but the other soldiers have yet to be found. They are thought to be trapped in the wreckage of the truck, which sank in the Kawarau River.

Police divers were unable to find the vehicle yesterday although they did find the back window, a seat and some clothing.

Jetskis and boats were used to check the river although the main flow was considered too dangerous to dive. The search method was being reassessed last night.

Burnham Military Camp, south of Christchurch, was sombre yesterday after the 3rd Logistical Battalion was told it had lost two soldiers.

Only six months ago the camp reeled with the news two soldiers had been killed and a third had serious injuries after a Unimog on driver training slid off a gravel road high on Banks Peninsula.

The surviving soldier, who did not want his name released, is now back at Burnham and has recently been declared fit for service.

At the camp yesterday, Colonel Rhys Jones said Wednesday's accident was a tragic loss that was felt by everyone.

He welcomed the review, saying it was timely considering the number of accidents, but that the driver training programme did not need to be suspended in the meantime because the latest accident "didn't raise any obvious red warning flags that we were doing something wrong".

A Court of Inquiry will also be held to look at the specifics of the crash, and Colonel Jones said its findings would be made public. It will cover the state of the vehicle as well the abilities of the soldiers who were killed.

The Court of Inquiry findings into last year's Unimog crash were due to be released soon but have now been delayed.

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