Operations in Afghanistan

Captain Thomas Clarke, Flight Lieutenant Rakesh Chauhan, Warrant Officer Class 2 Spencer Faulkner, Corporal James Walters and Lance Corporal Oliver Thomas killed in Afghanistan

It is with great sadness that the Ministry of Defence has confirmed the names of the 5 service personnel who lost their lives following the crash of a Lynx helicopter in southern Afghanistan on 26 April 2014.

They are: Captain Thomas Clarke, Army Air Corps; Flight Lieutenant Rakesh Chauhan, Royal Air Force; Warrant Officer Class 2 Spencer Faulkner, Army Air Corps; Corporal James Walters, Army Air Corps; and Lance Corporal Oliver Thomas, Intelligence Corps.

Group Captain Richard Maddison, Station Commander at RAF Odiham, said:

I am extremely saddened to hear of the loss of Captain Thomas Clarke, Flight Lieutenant Rakesh Chauhan, Warrant Officer Spencer Faulkner and Corporal James Walters, all who served at Royal Air Force Odiham. My deepest sympathies are with their families and friends at this most difficult time, and also with the family of Lance Corporal Oliver Thomas, who was not from Royal Air Force Odiham but who was also on the Lynx aircraft.

It was only a week before the accident that I visited their unit in Afghanistan, and flew in a Lynx with Captain Clarke, Warrant Officer Faulkner and Corporal Walters. It was an absolute pleasure to fly with them and to discuss their work; it was also incredibly reassuring to meet such professional and enthusiastic members of their unit.

While on the ground at their base I also spent time with Flight Lieutenant Chauhan, who was the same consummate professional that so many of us at RAF Odiham had come to know.

As with all losses of personnel in Afghanistan, we mourn the loss of our most capable and dedicated personnel, who served without complaint and in full understanding of the risks associated with their roles. They were fine ambassadors for their unit and for defence as a whole, and we shall not forget them.

Captain Thomas Ellis Clarke, Army Air Corps

Captain Thomas Clarke [Picture: via MOD]

Captain Tom Clarke, from Cowbridge, Wales, was 30. He was born in Cardiff on 19 February 1984. After studying for his A-levels, he gained a degree in biological sciences at the University of Birmingham in 2006.

He enlisted as an army officer in May 2007, undertaking officer training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. He graduated in April 2008, commissioning into the Army Air Corps as a pilot.

He completed a short tour of Afghanistan prior to commencing flying training in July 2008. He completed his helicopter pilot training in May 2010 and was posted to 661 Squadron, and subsequently 652 Squadron, to fly the Lynx.

Captain Clarke was posted to RAF Odiham in October 2013 and deployed on numerous occasions in support of training exercises. An ambitious and competent young officer, he had a very bright and promising future in the army.

His commanding officer said of him:

Captain Thomas Clarke was a fantastic young officer, full of life and immensely committed to his soldiers and friends. In the short time he had served in the unit he had proven to be an exceptional aviator and forthright leader who always placed himself at the centre of squadron life.

His loss will be keenly felt both at RAF Odiham and within the wider Army Air Corps. Our thoughts and sympathy are with his wife, family and friends at this most difficult of times.

The commander of the deployed Lynx detachment said:

Captain Tom Clarke was a hardworking, loyal and gifted aviator who was a privilege to command. His brightness, character, humility and charm will be remembered by all. He brought a smile to people’s faces and I was fortunate enough to have worked with him at RAF Odiham as well as in Afghanistan.

A rising star of the Army Air Corps, his loss will be deeply felt, and I feel honoured and privileged to have called him a friend. He will be deeply missed by the air detachment and by his squadron. My thoughts and prayers are with his loving wife Angie and his family and friends at this difficult time.

His family has paid the following tribute:

We cannot express enough our devastation at the loss of a truly wonderful husband, son, brother and friend. Tom brought so much happiness and love to everyone he knew with his sparkling blue eyes and cheeky smile.

He had an absolute passion for life and was the best part of us; we are all poorer today without him. ‘We carry your heart, we carry it in our heart’.

Flight Lieutenant Rakesh Chauhan, RAF Odiham

Flight Lieutenant Rakesh Chauhan [Picture: via MOD]

Flight Lieutenant Rakesh Chauhan was born in Birmingham on 3 February 1985. In February 2008 he commenced officer training at RAF Cranwell.

Upon commissioning into the RAF’s Intelligence Branch he underwent further training at the Defence Intelligence and Security Centre at Chicksands in Bedfordshire, serving at RAF Waddington and RAF Marham, and in Afghanistan.

Flight Lieutenant Chauhan deployed to Afghanistan for his third tour on 13 February 2014 as an intelligence officer in support of the UK’s armed forces deployed on Operation Herrick.

His commanding officer paid the following tribute:

Flight Lieutenant Rakesh Chauhan was a hugely influential and well respected officer whose enthusiasm and professionalism permeated every aspect of his work. Charming, funny and sharp as a tack, he was immensely proud of his role and of his service.

An exceptional officer, he clearly had a bright future ahead of him. His loss has devastated the station and our thoughts and prayers are very much with his family and friends.

The commander of the deployed Lynx detachment said of him:

Flight Lieutenant Rakesh Chauhan, or ‘Rak’ to his friends, was an outstanding Royal Air Force officer in every respect. Bright, articulate, charismatic and loyal, he was a pleasure to be around. Certainly the best Intelligence Branch officer I have known, his presentations were considered essential viewing by aircrew and others alike.

A rising star of the Royal Air Force, Rak was a team player in every respect and worked passionately for those around him. One of my go-to individuals, he would unselfishly take on additional work, safe in the knowledge that his peers would do less as a result.

His positive attitude was infectious and he would always be seen with a bright smile on his face. His sense of humour was contagious and you could guarantee he would be at the centre of any laughter in the room.

Not only did I have the privilege of commanding Rak in Afghanistan but he also worked directly for me at RAF Odiham. He commanded a small team of dedicated intelligence personnel with skill, humility and professionalism; they will miss him.

Rak was my midweek neighbour in the officers’ mess and we were close friends both in and outside of work. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him but my thoughts and prayers are with his family at this extremely difficult time.

Warrant Officer Class 2 Spencer Faulkner, Army Air Corps

Warrant Officer Class 2 Spencer Faulkner [Picture: via MOD]

Warrant Officer Class 2 (WO2) Spencer Faulkner was born on 15 December 1975. He joined the army as a Royal Engineer geographic technician in September 1992. Selected for employment as aircrew in 2005, he completed his initial flying training prior to streaming onto the Lynx helicopter.

He completed his conversion training at Middle Wallop in February 2007 and was subsequently officially remustered to the Army Air Corps as a pilot. An experienced aviator, Warrant Officer Faulkner deployed to Afghanistan on numerous occasions, often at short notice, in support of UK armed forces.

A true army warrant officer in bearing and professionalism, he was liked and highly respected by all who worked with him.

His commanding officer said of him:

WO2 Spencer Faulkner has been a stalwart of the squadron for many years, deploying to Afghanistan on numerous occasions, where he consistently displayed the guile, leadership and bravery so closely associated with his squadron.

The loss of a warrant officer of his calibre and commitment will leave a huge void in the close knit-fabric of the unit and our thoughts and condolences are very much with his family, of whom he was so proud.

The commander of the deployed Lynx detachment paid the following tribute:

WO2 Spen Faulkner was a conscientious, loyal and dedicated soldier who was a privilege to command. An extremely experienced aviator, he was the air mission commander of his detachment and my first port of call if I wanted a straight answer, no matter how sensitive the subject.

Well-liked and respected by all who met him, his passing is a huge blow to the aviation detachment and his squadron alike. I had the privilege of flying with WO2 Faulkner numerous times at Royal Air Force Odiham and was always incredibly impressed with his professionalism and hands-on flying ability.

Sharing a cockpit with him, you would get insight into the true man; a loving husband and hugely dedicated father to his 2 children. I feel honoured to be able to call him a friend and my thoughts and prayers are with his wife and family at this difficult time.

His family said:

Spen was a loving husband to Cally and devoted father to Natasha and Jack, and will be greatly missed. A huge gap has been left in our hearts forever. He has been tragically taken away whilst serving his country, a job he loved. God rest his soul.

Corporal James Walters, Army Air Corps

Corporal James Walters [Picture: via MOD]

Born on 11 January 1978, Corporal James Walters joined the army in March 1996 as a driver. He subsequently moved to 668 Squadron at the School of Army Aviation in Middle Wallop where he completed additional training before being posted to 5 Regiment Army Air Corps in Northern Ireland in 1998.

In April 2001, he moved to 4 Regiment Army Air Corps at Wattisham and undertook training to become ground crew on the Apache helicopter. He subsequently moved to 3 Regiment Army Air Corps, completing an operational tour in Kuwait during the conflict in 2003.

Operating with the Lynx helicopter force, he proved to be a highly competent crewman, deploying to Afghanistan on numerous occasions in support of UK armed forces.

A highly respected junior non-commissioned officer, he was a consummate professional and an example to all who served with him.

His commanding officer paid the following tribute:

Corporal James Walters, or ‘Bungle’ as he was known, was a hugely committed soldier who had served with distinction throughout the Army Air Corps. Respected and well-liked, he was always a mentor and friend to the less experienced members of the unit.

Never afraid to face the challenges of operations in Afghanistan, he served with immense skill and bravery. A huge character, the loss of Bungle has devastated the squadron and our thoughts and prayers are with his young family at this immensely sad time.

The commander for the deployed Lynx detachment said of him:

Corporal James Walters was a loyal, dependable and extremely professional aviator who was a privilege to command. His quiet demeanour masked his extremely quick wit and he would regularly be at the centre of any debate; especially when the subject involved rugby or Cornwall.

I was fortunate enough to have flown with Corporal Walters on numerous occasions back at Royal Air Force Odiham and his professionalism in the aircraft was unsurpassed. He was never found wanting and was always the first to volunteer; he was liked and respected by all who knew him.

It is fair to say that amongst Lynx aircrew in the Army Air Corps he was known and liked without exception. A professional soldier, a devoted father and a loving husband, he will be missed by all. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Tracey, daughter Lainey, and his family and friends at this difficult time.

His family paid the following tribute:

We cannot begin to comprehend the tragic loss of a beautiful and loving husband, daddy, son and brother. James has left a huge hole in all our hearts.

Lance Corporal Oliver Matthew Thomas, Intelligence Corps

Lance Corporal Oliver Thomas [Picture: via MOD]

Lance Corporal Thomas was born on 5 September 1987 in Brecon, Powys. He joined the Army Reserve in June 2011, and after moving to London he joined 3 Military Intelligence Battalion in July 2012.

He volunteered to be mobilised from the Army Reserve for deployment to Afghanistan and arrived on 11 December 2013 to be part of the United Kingdom’s contribution to the International Security Assistance Force.

The commanding officer of 3 Military Intelligence Battalion said:

The news of the death of Lance Corporal Oliver Matthew Thomas is devastating to his friends and companions in 3 Military Intelligence Battalion.

This tragic incident has taken a young, enthusiastic and highly capable Intelligence Corps soldier away from us and his loss is deeply felt by all members of the unit and the Intelligence Corps as a whole. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, particularly his parents, at this most difficult time.

His officer commanding said:

Lance Corporal Oli Thomas was the embodiment of his generation: bright, gifted, with an enquiring mind, and laser-focused on the task in hand. The bonus for us was that he was also blessed with a natural flair and the happy knack of always being able to raise a smile with his keen sense of wit.

The future and uncertainty did not disturb him. He only saw opportunity ahead and, ultimately, it was his irresistible addiction to the life-force that took him away. It is with regret and to my loss that I did not know Oli for longer – but in only a short time he made an immediate and lasting impression. His absence has left an enormous gap in a close-knit team. We will remember him.

His family paid the following tribute:

Oliver was a truly amazing person, living his life to the full, while fulfilling some of his many dreams and adventures. He was very much loved and will be greatly missed by his grieving family and friends.

Statement by the Defence Secretary

Philip Hammond said:

I was deeply saddened to learn of the deaths of these 5 service personnel from the Army Air Corps, the Royal Air Force and 3 Military Intelligence Battalion as a result of what we believe to be a tragic accident on a routine sortie in Kandahar province. My thoughts and deepest sympathies are with the families of those who have lost their lives.

These tragic deaths remind us of the continued commitment and sacrifice of our soldiers, sailors and airmen serving in Afghanistan as we support the Afghans to take full responsibility for the security of their own territory. The work they are doing is vital to Britain’s national security and their sacrifice will not be forgotten.

This incident is now the subject of a thorough investigation to find out exactly what happened. Lynx Mk9A helicopters have a good operational safety record and commanders have judged that it is safe for the fleet to continue to operate while the investigation is carried out.