7 Aug 2010

Body of killed soldier returns to New Zealand

9:55 pm on 7 August 2010

A plane carrying the body of New Zealand soldier Lieutenant Timothy O'Donnell, who was killed on patrol in Afghanistan, touched down at Auckland's Whenuapai airbase in pouring rain on Saturday afternoon.

Members of the immediate families of Lance-Corporal Matthew Ball and Private Allister Baker were briefly taken on board the RNZAF Boeing 757 to be reunited with the two men, who were injured in the roadside ambush that killed Lieutenant O'Donnell on Tuesday.

The pair were then stretchered off into waiting ambulances and taken to Auckland Hospital for continued medical treatment.

The casket of Lieutenant O'Donnell remained on the 757, which was towed to another location on the base for a private ceremony involving family and officials. The casket will be flown to Ohakea airbase on Sunday.

'A bittersweet moment'

Army chief Major-General Rhys Jones says the homecoming of the injured soldiers is a bittersweet moment for the Defence Force and the men's families.

Both men wanted to be on board the same flight home as Lieutenant O'Donnell, he says, and both will be at his funeral on Wednesday.

Major-General Jones says that while the injuries to Lance-Corporal Ball and Private Baker are reasonably serious, they will recover fully and return to duty.

Outpouring of condolences

Meanwhile, the Defence Force has received an outpouring of condolences from the public following the fatal attack by Aghan insurgents.

It says all the messages will be collected and sent to the soldiers' families. An online form has also been established on the Defence Force website for people who want to send a message.

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp, who was among those at Whenuapai on Saturday, says the death of a soldier should be sobering not only for the politicians who deploy them overseas but for the nation.

While the Government makes the decision to deploy the country's defence forces overseas, Dr Mapp says, it is the soldiers who pay the ultimate price.