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Charges possible over soldier's death

Monday 18 Mar 2013 6:08 a.m.

Private Michael Ross

Private Michael Ross

Labour's demanding an investigation into Defence Force shortcuts after it was revealed a soldier drowned because the gas canister that should have inflated his lifejacket was empty.

Private Michael Victor Ross died in September last year after falling overboard into Lake Moawhango, near Waiouru, from an inflatable boat.

His colleagues were unable to save him, and his body was located eight days later by navy and police divers using sonar equipment.

Pte Ross was wearing a lifejacket, but the Court of Inquiry into his death has found the gas canister in it was used on a previous exercise and not replaced, and was not checked before Pte Ross was issued it, the Sunday Star Times reports.

It also reports that the inflatable boat the soldiers were on was not fully inflated, and there was no safety boat, in contravention of Defence Force rules, along with a number of other breaches.

Labour's defence spokesman Phil Goff wants a full inquiry into whether the Defence Force has a culture of taking such shortcuts.

It was the fifth non-combat death in the Defence Force in the past two years - most of which have been "very clearly avoidable", Mr Goff told Radio New Zealand.

"There have been very clear, systemic errors that the Defence Force has allowed to continue."

He said that could be a result of government pressure to cut costs, or low morale.

The Defence Force says its investigations into Pte Ross' death are nearing completion - including a military police inquiry into whether charges should be laid.

The Court of Inquiry is looking into the equipment used on the exercise, and Defence Force systems and processes.

"We have acknowledged this tragedy and our inquiry has left no stone unturned in identifying our role in it," Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant General Rhys Jones said.

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman says he has told the Defence Force to make changes to "absolutely minimise" a repeat event.

He anticipates "some painful lessons" from the Court of Inquiry and says his department could face charges.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is also carrying out a health and safety investigation, while Pte Ross' death has been referred to the coroner.

NZN / 3 News

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