A ROYAL Marine was accidentally killed while on a secret training exercise off Portsmouth, an inquest ruled today.
Sergeant Andrew Pearson, 37, choked on safety gear before falling 30ft into the sea during a training exercise in the Solent.
Portsmouth and South East Hampshire coroner David Horsley today recorded a verdict of accidental death.
The inquest at Portsmouth Crown Court heard how Sgt Pearson was one of a group of marines climbing from Rhib dinghies up a caving ladder onto RFA Fort Rosalie.
He became tired battling against high winds in cold, dark conditions and began to struggle. He was given a safety line but had to be cut free urgently when the rope caused him to choke on his utility life jacket vest – which had been fastened incorrectly.
The marine fell into the sea. Despite attempts to save him, he was later pronounced dead at Queen Alexandra Hospital, Cosham.
Mr Horsley said: ‘Andy was a courageous and dedicated marine who died in service of his country and I think that is a fact all his family can be very, very proud of.’
News of the tragedy on January 27, 2010 emerged for the first time yesterday during the inquest held at Portsmouth Crown Court.
An inquest jury heard how Sgt Pearson, who joined the marines in 1991, was training for a top-secret operation.
Such is the level of secrecy, the marine’s comrades appeared behind a curtain to give evidence yesterday.
One marine, named in court as ‘Soldier C’, told how he hooked a safety rope to the back of Sgt Pearson’s life jacket to help him after he stopped climbing 5ft from the top of the ladder.
He added: ‘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.’
After the fall, the Rhib driver – known only as ‘Soldier K’ – recalled: ‘Andy was not responding and face down in the water. His head was held out of the water. There was a brief gargling noise but no movement.’
‘Soldier K’ and three other marines hauled Sgt Pearson aboard the Rhib and began resuscitation attempts with a medic from Fort Rosalie.
A helicopter soon took the casualty to QA hospital but doctors later pronounced the marine dead.
Questions were raised about why Sgt Pearson’s life jacket was not fastened correctly around his legs, causing it to ride up around his neck when he was suspended on the safety line.
Further questions centre on why the safety line was attached to the hook at the back of the vest rather than a stronger central point at the front of a harness around his waist.
But ‘Soldier C’ said he couldn’t reach down to the central area and just wanted to get Sgt Pearson onto the ship quickly.