Geelong soldier Jason Challis was killed in a training exercise at Mount Bundey Military Training Area, south of Darwin.
Geelong soldier Jason Challis was killed in a training exercise at Mount Bundey Military Training Area, south of Darwin.

Army failures probed over live-fire shooting

THE death of Private Jason Challis could have been prevented if the Army's safety procedures were properly followed, an inquest has heard.

The former Grovedale College student-turned soldier, 25, was shot in the head during a live fire exercise at Mount Bundey Training Area south of Darwin in May last year.

The first day of an inquest into his death yesterday heard Pte Challis had no experience firing live ammunition in a staged "urban" setting.

Pte Challis - who joined the Army 10 months earlier - was in a small group of soldiers and engineers approaching a plywood building in a mock village when he unknowingly took up a position in what should have been marked a "no-go area". Soldiers on the other side of the plywood hut shot at a "dummy" target, sending bullets through the plywood wall of the hut, killing Pte Challis.

The inquest yesterday heard the team had not rehearsed the drill with "blank" ammunition, or performed a walk-through of the village despite Army rules requiring all three.

Counsel assisting the coroner Kelvin Currie said the inquest would consider why the Army had not followed recommendations made by the Inspector General and the Australian Defence Force following the death of Lance Corporal Mason Edwards in 2009.

Mr Currie also said the inquest would examine whether Pte Challis had enough training to safely take part in the complex live-fire drill and what changes had been made to ensure similar accidents were avoided.

Fiona McLeod SC, for the Army, said the Army community was incredibly saddened by Pte Challis's death, a sentiment echoed by Colonel Richard Parker.

Coroner Greg Cavanagh - who has previously examined the preventable death of a soldier at Mount Bundey - said, "you have got to stop killing your own blokes".

The inquest heard no blank ammunition was available for the teams to train with, that one soldier's radio earpiece had stopped working in the heat and that moments before Challis was shot, the drill was put on hold because the team was out of position.

The inquest was shown confronting video of the attack which was being filmed for the Army's Facebook page.

Captain James Oliver, one of a string of soldiers to give evidence at the inquest, said the decision to not run through the drill with blank ammunition before switching to live rounds must have been made at a "higher level" within Army ranks.

Only some of the witnesses said they were aware at the time that live fire exercises were only supposed to be held after a rehearsal with blank ammunition.

The inquest, expected to last three days, continues.



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