19 Nov 2009

Exploding artillery shell kills sergeant at Waiouru

8:40 pm on 19 November 2009

The death of an air force flight sergeant when an old artillery shell exploded at Waiouru military camp in the central North Island is being described as a freak accident.

Andrew Forster, 46, was killed when the munition exploded just metres from him and another sergeant at about 9am on Thursday in the northwest of the camp's training area.

The other sergeant is in hospital with minor injuries.

The Chief of the Air Force, Air Vice Marshal Graham Lintott, says the old rusting shell, which was discovered on Wednesday, was being marked by the explosive ordinance disposal squadron members for future disposal when it went off.

Air Vice Marshal Lintott says the shell would have been fired into the area as part of a training exercise and not exploded.

Experienced armourer

Flight Sergeant Forster, a 27-year veteran of the Air Force, had just returned from a tour of Afghanistan and was described as one of the Air Force's most experienced armourers.

He spent most of his time working on Air Force Skyhawks, preparing and loading bombs and detonating unexploded ordinance.

He is survived by his wife and three children. Prime Minister John Key has sent his condolences to his family.

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp says Flight Sergeant Forster "was undertaking particularly hazardous work with unexploded munitions. He was essentially marking munitions for later disposal. It's an inherently dangerous task."

Mr Mapp says the squadron comprises people from all three services.

"Everyone of course volunteers for that squadron but it brings home to people the dangers our servicemen and women undertake."

The minister says there will be a full investigation into the incident.

Defence Force Chief Jerry Mateparae was delivered the news during a select committee briefing on Thursday morning.

The Prime Minister says the brave men and women of the New Zealand military constantly put their lives on the line as they go about their duties.

Air Vice Marshal Lintott says the deeply likely and well respected Flight Sergeant will be deeply missed.

The Air Force says Flight Sergeant Forster's funeral is likely to be held at Ohakea.