RAF serviceman died after convoy truck plunged down ravine


David Humphreys

AN RAF serviceman died after his truck fell 70 metres into a ravine.

Senior Aircraftman (SAC) John ‘James’ Smart, 22, died in Italy in July 2011 when the truck he was driving clipped a wall and left the carriageway.

A conclusion of an accident was reached by North Wales East and Central coroner John Gittins at an inquest held in Ruthin yesterday.

SAC Smart, of The Highway, Hawarden, was described by a senior officer as “a lovable character” who had a “glowing career ahead” of him.

He was a member of the No 2 Mechanical Transport Squadron (2MT) whose job involved long-distance travelling and haulage.

SAC Smart’s commanding officer at the time of his death in 2011, Squadron Leader Wayne Tracey, said the squadron had been mobilised to support the UK’s response to conflict in Libya and to deliver equipment from RAF Wittering in Lincolnshire to the Gioia del Colle airbase in Bari, Italy.

At the time of the accident SAC Smart – nicknamed ‘Smarty’ – had been travelling in a packet (group) with SAC Mark Ward and Flight Sgt Brian Aitken.

Addressing the inquest, Flight Sgt Aitken said SAC Smart was an “extremely capable” airman and an “up and coming star” and he had a lot of confidence in him.

He told the inquest the convoy was travelling in three different types of trucks which were aged but had been declared fit for purpose.

During their long days the drivers would be afforded regular breaks.

Following each rest, Flt Sgt Aitken said he would perform welfare checks with drivers to ensure they were fit to take to the wheel and on no occasion did SAC Smart indicate he needed to stop.

On July 20 a group made up of Flight Sgt Aitken, SAC Smart and SAC Ward left their rest point outside Modena, Italy.

Flt Sgt Aitken said SAC Smart had appeared his “normal self” and had not acted or indicated anything that would have aroused suspicions as to his condition.

Convoy vehicles were 100 to 150 metres apart throughout the drive and when they reached Rocca San Giovanni in the province of Chieti, nothing appeared out of the ordinary.

The trio, with SAC Smart leading, reached an area of road that curved gently with a wall parallel to a bridge they had passed. Flt Sgt Aitken said he then saw SAC Smart’s truck drift slowly across his lane and his trailer clip the wall, causing debris to fall in to the road and throw up dust.

He added the trailer shook violently, then SAC Smart’s truck disappeared from view.

Flt Sgt Aitken tried to contact SAC Smart on his radio. When there was no response, he parked his own vehicle on the hard shoulder.

He discovered the vehicle to be in a ravine 70 metres below the road, a scene he described as “carnage”. The cab had separated from its trailer with equipment spilling out.

Mr Gittins told Flt Sgt Aitken the reality was SAC Smart’s crash was “unsurvivable”. A written statement from SAC Mark Ward was read out. He said he saw SAC Smart’s vehicle upside down and off the carriageway.

A doctor who had been in a car helped SAC Ward and Flight Sgt Aitken and said nothing could be done to save SAC Smart.

A subsequent RAF investigation established there had no been equipment failures that had contributed to the death.

A post-mortem examination was carried out at Wrexham Maelor Hospital, which established SAC Smart had died as a result of multiple injuries.

Mr Gittins said SAC Smart would have lost his life immediately but would not have suffered.

“He failed to negotiate the curve of the bend and his truck left the carriageway as a result.”

SAC Smart’s mother, Carol Green, said her son was “soft hearted” and had loved working with the forces.

Ms Green said she and his father, John Smart, were “so proud” when they attended their son’s passing out ceremony.

Wing commander Craig Tucker told the inquest an inquiry was launched following SAC Smart’s death and the RAF had learned lessons from the event.

See full story in the Leader

Leave your comment

Share your opinions on

Characters left: 1500

Most Read