ONE of two soldiers injured in the incident at Castlemartin ranges that left two members of the Royal Tank Regiment dead has been released from hospital.

One other soldier remains in hospital in a serious condition following the incident last Wednesday.

Corporals Matthew Hatfield, 27, and Darren Neilson, 31, died on Thursday following the incident - believed to be an explosion or fire inside a Challenger 2 tank - on Wednesday afternoon.

Lieutenant Colonel Simon Ridgway, Commanding Officer of The Royal Tank Regiment, confirmed the news with deep sadness on Friday afternoon.

He said: "They were both exceptionally talented soldiers who loved what they did.

"The Regiment has lost two real characters and feels truly honoured to have served with them; they will both be sorely missed.

"The two other soldiers involved in this incident remain in a serious condition; our thoughts and prayers are with all their families and friends at this incredibly difficult time.

"We request that their privacy is respected."

Cpl Hatfield was from Wiltshire and Cpl Neilson from Lancashire.

Both men were fathers.

Speaking of Cpl Neilson, Lt Col Rdigway, said: "Corporal ‘Daz’ Neilson joined the Army in 2004 serving with both the 1st and 2nd Royal Tank Regiments before they amalgamated into the Royal Tank Regiment.

"He was a real character within his crew, troop, squadron and the regiment and he had the respect of all those he worked with due to his professionalism, easy going nature and natural leadership style.

"While happy in any crew position, Daz had a real talent for gunnery and this was the area he specialised in, becoming a Challenger 2 gunnery instructor and commander.

"He recently returned to the regiment and joined BADGER, a Challenger 2 squadron, as a Troop Corporal and gunnery instructor. His passion for his career in general, and gunnery in particular, was obvious and many of our soldiers have improved their skills as a result of his dedication and experience.

"Because of his character Daz was selected to be part of the Army Recruiting Team in Preston where a combination of his dry sense of humour and clear enthusiasm for being in the military played a key part in helping recruit soldiers. Being a real family man this was also a chance to spend quality time with them.

"During his time as a soldier Daz deployed on operations to Iraq and Afghanistan and spent a huge amount of time on exercise on Salisbury Plain helping train future tank commanders or conducting low level training.

"Always at the centre of the action he could be counted on to make people laugh whatever the circumstances and we all feel incredibly privileged to have known him. His sudden loss is devastating and his family are in our thoughts and prayers at this incredibly difficult time."

Lt Col Ridgway said of Cpl Hatfield: "From a very early age Corporal Matthew ‘Hattie’ Hatfield wanted to join the Army and as soon as he was old enough he started basic training at the Army Training Regiment in Harrogate.

"Having finished the Challenger 2 drivers’ course in Bovington he joined the Queen’s Royal Hussars and while doing a job at the Armoured Trials and Development Unit he transferred into the Royal Tank Regiment to be closer to his mother, sister, fiancée and daughter.

"Hattie was an utterly professional, incredibly hard working and exceptionally well liked soldier. Whether as a tank driver, gunner, operator or commander, Hattie was in his element.

"He was a man who loved soldiering, loved being part of a crew and loved having a laugh with everyone he worked with.

"He was an excellent role model and mentor for junior soldiers and he always put others before himself. He spent his evenings and weekends volunteering with the local Army Cadet Force inspiring the next generation of soldiers using his wealth of experience.

"During his career he deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and took part in numerous exercises in Germany, the UK, Oman, Brunei and Canada. He was identified as having all the skills necessary to be a very effective tank commander and having completed the course he was then selected to be a Challenger 2 gunnery instructor. He was a natural teacher and everyone benefitted from his enthusiasm, knowledge and desire to help others be the best they could be.

"Hattie had recently started a new job as a Troop Corporal and gunnery instructor in BADGER, one of the Challenger 2 squadrons, and had already made his mark as a real team player and his significant potential was obvious.

"A genuine wind-up merchant, he would have a laugh and a joke at every opportunity and everyone enjoyed being in his company. He was an enthusiastic and fiercely competitive rugby and cricket player who enjoyed being on the pitch but also enjoyed the banter in the bar after a game.

"Hattie was an excellent soldier who we are honoured to have served with and we are devastated by his untimely death and his family’s loss. All our thoughts and prayers are with them at this incredibly difficult time."

The MOD had released the news of the deaths in two seperate statements on Thursday.

The death of the first soldier, at Morriston Hospital, had been announced on Thursday morning by Minister for Defence People and Veterans, Tobias Ellwood.

He had said: "His next of kin were by his bedside."

On Thursday evening Mr Ellwood, said: "It is with great sadness I can confirm the death of a second soldier from the Royal Tank Regiment following yesterday's incident at Castlemartin Ranges.

"Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad time who have requested that their privacy be respected."

The soldier died at the Heath Hospital in Cardiff.

Mr Ellwood added: "The safety of our personnel is our absolute priority and a full investigation is underway to understand the details of this tragic incident."

Two other soldiers remain in hospital in serious conditions.

A spokesman for Dyfed-Powys said the investigation at Castlemartin is continuing, led by Dyfed-Powys Police, working closely with the Health and Safety Executive and the MOD.

Investigators in forensic suits were seen on Friday morning examining a tank believed to have been that involved in the incident (pictures: Dimitris Legakis/Athena Pictures).

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The Royal Tank Regiment had posted this picture of the regiment at Castlemartin on Facebook earlier this week.

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Members of the armed forces were also seen searching the range  (picture below by Martin Cavaney).

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The Times reported that former tank operators said the most likely secnario was the charge used to propel the ammunition forward blasted back into the turret.

All live firing exercises by Challenger 2 tanks have been suspended until investigators discover what went wrong.

South Pembrokeshire MP Simon Hart told the Western Telegraph: "This is a terrible incident and my thoughts go out to all those involved and affected.

"This is another reminder that being in the armed forces is a demanding and dangerous job in peace time as well as war time. It's a terrible thing to happen in our county.

"I have the utmost confidence in the MOD to get to the bottom of what has happened.

"We expect a lot from our servicemen and women. They go into dangerous situations and the training to go into those dangerous situations is dangerous in itself."

A statement released by Dyfed-Powys Police before the second death, added: 

"Dyfed-Powys Police were called to an incident involving a tank at MOD Royal Armoured Corps range in Castlemartin at 3.30pm yesterday (Wednesday, June 14).

"Four men were injured, two were conveyed to Morriston Hospital, one to the Heath Hospital in Cardiff and another to a hospital in Birmingham by air ambulance.

"Tragically we can confirm the incident has resulted in the death of one of the men this morning, and the other three are in a serious condition in hospital.

"All next of kin of those injured have been informed, and are being supported. Our thoughts are with them.

"Dyfed-Powys Police has launched an investigation and is working closely with partners, and in particular the Health and Safety Executive and the Ministry of Defence."

A statement from the Royal Tank Regiment, which is the oldest tank unit in the world, according to its website, said its investigations were ongoing.
It said: "Our thoughts are with the friends and families of all those involved."

Regional Assembly Member, Eluned Morgan expressed her sadness at the incident.

Mrs Morgan said: “I am extremely sad to hear of this tragedy at Castlemartin.  When an event such as this occurs it brings home to all of us the dangerous nature of the job that members of our armed forces commit themselves to on a daily basis.  My thoughts are with all of those involved at this time.

“As the investigation gets underway, I trust that all resources necessary will be provided to ensure events leading up to this tragedy are fully understood and that appropriate measures are taken in future.”

On Wednesday an ambulance spokesman confirmed the service had been called out.

Police and fire officers were pictured at the scene (picture by Aled Llywelyn).

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According to the range's automated telephone service, firing was scheduled to take place between 9am and 4.30pm on Wednesday.

The Royal Tank Regiment has been training at the site in the past week.

The incident comes five years after a 21-year-old soldier died at Castlemartin when he was shot in the head while relaxing at a safe location just outside the training range.

A 2013 inquest into the death of Michael "Mike" Maguire heard he was hit in the temple by a single machine gun bullet fired by a fellow soldier during a training exercise.

The inquest jury ruled Ranger Maguire, who was a member of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Irish Regiment, had been unlawfully killed.

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Live fire exercises regularly take place at the ranges (Picture: Lisa Soar).