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24 August 2011, 10:02
The death of a Royal Marine who fell from a ship after getting tired during a training exercise was an accident, an inquest jury has ruled.
The hearing at Portsmouth was told that Sergeant Andrew Pearson had been attached to the vessel by a safety line but this was urgently cut when it caused him to become choked by his utility vest which had been put on incorrectly.
The inquest heard that the cache jacket rose up around Sgt Pearson's neck because he had not secured the crotch straps properly, which would have stopped it riding up and strangling him.
The 37-year-old, from Devon, was among a group of marines carrying out the exercise to board a moving ship in the Solent, off Portsmouth, during darkness on the evening of January 27, 2010, when the accident happened.
The jury of five women and four men returned a verdict of accidental death.
Portsmouth coroner David Horsley said he was satisfied that the Ministry of Defence had taken steps to prevent such an accident from recurring.
Soldier X, who gave his evidence anonymously and who was responsible for safety on the training exercise on which Sgt Pearson died, said that changes had been made following a review of the incident.
These included an order that the cache jacket was only to be worn with the crotch straps in place.
He said: ''We are not to utilise the jacket without the leg straps done up - that imposes on supervisors or instructors and safety crews the responsibility of checking those.''
He added that the strap which was used for the safety line in the incident was not to be used any more because it had not been tested to be weight-bearing.
Mr Horsley added:
''I am sure that all the members of the jury will join with me in expressing our sympathy and condolences to all Andrew's family on his sad and unfortunate death.
''Andrew was a courageous and dedicated marine who died in the service of his country and that is a fact all of his family can be very, very proud of.''
An MoD spokeswoman said after the hearing:
''Sgt Andy Pearson was an experienced and talented Royal Marine who tragically died in a training exercise doing the job he loved.
''Our thoughts at this very difficult time are with his family and particularly with his young sons.
''The circumstances into Andy Pearson's death have been thoroughly investigated by Hampshire Constabulary and the MoD.''
The inquest heard that Sgt Pearson was the last of the marines being carried on rigid hull inflatable boats (Rhibs) to climb up a caving ladder suspended from the Navy supply ship RFA Fort Rosalie.
Detective Sergeant Stephen Spencer, of Hampshire Police, who investigated the death, said that as Sgt Pearson reached the top of the ladder he became fatigued and got into difficulties.
He said that Sgt Pearson did not hook on to the ladder to give himself a rest and enable him to recoup his energy.
As he reached the top of the ladder, he called for help from the ladder safety officer, named only as Soldier C in the inquest, who was standing onboard the Fort Rosalie.
Soldier C attempted to grab his hand but when he was unable to reach him, he attached a safety line to the handle of the cache jacket, a military utility jacket, worn by Sgt Pearson.
Mr Spencer described how Sgt Pearson ''peeled'' away from the ship but as he became suspended by the rope, his cache jacket rose up and started to choke him.
He said that Soldier C then cut the safety line and Sgt Pearson fell into the sea where he was lifted out of the water by the Rhib crew.
He was airlifted to the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth by a Royal Navy Sea King helicopter where, despite continued attempts to resuscitate him, he was pronounced dead at 1.30am.
Describing seeing Sgt Pearson in trouble at the top of the ladder, Soldier C, who gave evidence behind a curtain to conceal his identity, told the inquest:
''It all happened so quickly. I saw his leg come out and in an instant Andy was dangling off the ladder.
''Initially his arms were out by the side but then I saw his hands come in towards his neck area.
''I shouted 'he's choking' and reached for my knife and cut the rope with one clean swing of my blade. I shouted 'man overboard'.
''He appeared to fall backwards like a starfish with his legs out.''
Mr Spencer said that examination of Sgt Pearson's cache jacket showed that he had only attached one of two crotch straps which are designed to stop it from rising up the body.
He said that the right strap was attached to the left fixing and the left strap was found unattached in one of the cache jacket pockets.
He added: ''The only conclusion is that Soldier F made that mistake.''
Mr Spencer said it was not unusual for marines to ''peel'' (fall) off the ship during this exercise and another had done so earlier that night.
Dr Basil Purdue, Home Office pathologist, said that a post-mortem examination revealed that Sgt Pearson died as a combination of his breathing having been restricted, a fall from a height and drowning.