Private Kirifi Mila
The NZ Defence Force has completed its investigation into the death of Private Kirifi Mila who was killed when the vehicle he was travelling in rolled off the road down a steep bank in the North East of Bamyan, Afghanistan, on 15 February 2011.
Private Mila was the vehicle gunner in the lead Humvee during a routine patrol as part of NZ Provincial Reconstruction Team (NZPRT) operations.
The Court of Inquiry found that:
As the driver negotiated a corner at low speed, the road narrowed significantly and developed a reverse camber, a ‘foot path’ type lip on the left hand side and thick sticky mud at the right hand road edge.
Consequently, the "right hand Humvee wheels lost traction and slipped down the embankment almost simultaneously". The vehicle rolled one and a half times before coming to a rest on its right hand side.
The vehicle rolled on to Private Mila, who died as a result of crush injuries to his thorax and abdomen.
Attempts by the driver to steer the vehicle back onto its course failed. "Once the sideways slide began, the vehicle was virtually unrecoverable. The dramatic and unforeseeable change in road conditions could not have been reasonably predicted" by the driver.
The Humvee’s speed was not "excessive for the weather and road conditions at the time of the accident".
"The driver was qualified to drive the vehicle," and his patrol members "all rated him as one of the better, more experienced drivers within the contingent".
The accident could not "reasonably be attributed to the driver’s competence or lack thereof". His qualifications, training and experience were found to be adequate for operating Humvees in Afghanistan.
No vehicle defects were found which could have contributed to the cause of the accident.
"The vehicle was being driven in accordance with the NZ HMMWV (Humvee) Operators Manual", with one exception – none of the occupants were wearing seatbelts. "The wearing of seatbelts would have drastically reduced the amount the vehicle occupants were thrown around inside the vehicle during the accident".
However, it has been common practice among NZPRT personnel not to use the seatbelts fitted in Humvees. "Some witnesses suggested that the cumbersome operation of the in-service Humvee seatbelt over the top of NZ body armour would inhibit fast exit from the vehicle" during a firefight.
Contingent personnel were "predominantly unaware" of the provisions in the Humvee Operators Manual, including the roll-over procedures. Had the correct roll-over procedure drills been carried out by the vehicle occupants, "it is likely that Private Mila would not have been killed as a result of this accident".
"The existence and purpose of Humvee gunner harnesses was virtually unknown to personnel prior to this accident". Gunner harnesses are designed to prevent the gunner from being thrown out of the turret in an incident. Private Mila was not wearing a gunner harness as it was not fitted to the Humvee. At that time, gunner harnesses had not been used by the NZPRT for some time.
The Court of Inquiry made a number of well-considered and thorough recommendations, which the NZ Defence Force has agreed with, including that:
The NZ Humvee Operators Manual "be reviewed for currency and compliance and enforced across the mission".
Vehicle roll-over training be conducted before operating vehicles in Afghanistan.
The safety case in respect of using the seatbelts fitted in Humvees be further investigated.
All "NZ operated Humvees have, and routinely use, the gunner’s harness".
"A training needs analysis… be conducted to identify the skills gap and confirm the training required to enable current NZDF personnel to competently operate Humvees in Afghanistan".
Commander Joint Forces New Zealand, Major General Dave Gawn, who was the Assembling Authority for this Court of Inquiry said:
"Kirifi was a good, professional soldier. He was a popular member of his battalion and was well known as a colourful character. It has been a very difficult time for Kirifi’s family as well as his comrades in the Defence Force.
"The Court of Inquiry has enabled the NZ Defence Force to gain a better understanding of the circumstances leading up to the accident and what we should be doing as a result.
"The NZ Defence Force accepts the Court’s conclusion that the driver faced a dramatic and unforeseeable change in road conditions which he could not reasonably have predicted. The slide and the rollover which resulted were wholly accidental and once the slide commenced it was unrecoverable.
"The Defence Force fully accepts the Court’s recommendations, and a number of changes have been made to pre-deployment training, introduction to theatre training, and procedures in theatre.
"Vehicle roll-over training is conducted for all personnel deploying to operate in vehicles in Afghanistan.
"Gunner harnesses are now used by all New Zealand gunners operating in Humvees.
"Further examination of possible improvements to pre-deployment training in New Zealand and training in-theatre has also been undertaken.
"There is a fine balance between travelling safely and the ability to exit a vehicle expeditiously if it comes under attack by insurgents. Seatbelts are now worn as a matter of routine, however the Commanding Officer may authorise personnel to not wear a seatbelt if he considers that wearing seatbelts in a specific threat environment poses a significant risk."
Please note that Private Mila’s family do not wish to make a statement to the media and have requested privacy at this time.
Private Mila deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 as part of 2nd/1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, based in Burnham Military Camp. He was born on 3 February 1984 and joined the NZ Defence Force in 2006.
For all media enquiries please contact Kirsty Taylor-Doig on 021 806 926.