A US commando told today how his mind was racing at ”a million miles a minute” as he threw a grenade which killed a British aid worker he was trying to rescue.
Linda Norgrove’s family at today’s inquest
Tragic Linda Norgrove, 36, died during a failed attempt to save her from insurgents who were holding her hostage in Afghanistan.
She was kidnapped in Kunar Province on September 26 last year and a daring rescue mission was launch 12 days later.
A small group of ”highly experienced” US servicemen were dispatched by helicopter to the village of Dinesghal in a midnight operation.
But the team came under intense fire as they landed and Linda was killed just 59 seconds later, the inquest in Trowbridge, Wilts., heard.
Yesterday the soldier who threw grenade – known only as Team Member Five (TM5) – told how he was ”freaked out” when his weapon jammed as he tried to return fire.
They believed Linda was being held in an adjacent building but she was actually being hidden in a building just feet from where they landed.
TM5 and a colleague TM3 made their way along a terrace as other colleagues followed behind.
But they then came under a volley of gunfire from the building where Linda was being held, which TM5 described as a ”fatal funnel” which left them ”exposed” to the enemy fire and he feared for the lives of himself and his team mates.
The ”zero visibility” conditions meant none of the soldiers spotted Linda, who was dressed in loose dark clothes, being dragged out of the building by a burly insurgent who was joined by two other armed kidnappers.
Fearing for his life, TM5 launched a grenade at the house at the same time as his team leader on the roof fired shots at the insurgent, who was lying on the floor.
Linda was struck by the grenade and suffered fatal injuries to her chest and head, which killed her instantly.
In an interview conducted as part of a UK and US joint investigation into the tragedy, TM5 said: ”I am thinking if this guy rips full auto right now there’s a couple of guys that are going to go down and it is going to get real ugly real fast.
”I was thinking at a million miles a minute.”
He had been warned about ”being careful” regarding his use of grenades during a previous operation in Afghanistan.
He was the most inexperienced member of his team but was doing ”very well” and had been impressing his superiors with his maturity and skills before his fatal error.
His Team Leader, who failed to report that the grenade had been used, was convinced the insurgent next to Linda had blown himself up using his ‘chest rat’ or suicide vest.
He had previously seen an insurgent blow himself up using the method right in front of him and so assumed exactly the same had occurred during the failed rescue mission.
Visibility was so bad that Linda’s body was not discovered for another eight minutes as the team progressed towards the building they thought she was in.
A soldier who had been left to monitor the area suddenly spotted a female leg and was horrified to discover the body of a white female.
The team were ”utterly devastated” and initially believed Linda had been killed when the insurgent near her detonated his ‘suicide vest’, the inquest was told.
Her parents and the media were informed she had been killed in this manner – until 42 hours later when military chiefs were informed the grenade had been launched.
Brigadier Robert Nitsch, who was at the forefront of the joint investigation between UK and US forces, said: ”It is a matter of deep regret.
”It is very clear from the way that they behaved that they deeply regretted that it took 42 hours for the correct situation to come out.
”Initially at the end of the operation there was a debriefing. The feeling was that they had not allowed people to speak as much as they would have liked to have done and so information had not come out.”
He added that TM5 and TM3 told their Team Leader that the grenade had been thrown but he did not pass it on to his superiors because he initially believed a suicide vest had caused the blast.
Brigadier Nitsch added: ”It was just his sheer disappointment and sheer shock that this individual who has been in the US military for a substantial period of time, who has risked his life regularly during the working week and I think he had enormous difficulty computing this.”
The inquest, held at Trowbridge Town Hall, Wilts., was attended by Linda’s parents, sister Sofie Corns, 34 and her eight month old baby son, Tom.
It heard how Linda would have been killed ”very quickly” by the blast and would probably not even been aware that she had been hit.
Her injuries were too severe to have been treated – even if she had been discovered immediately after the grenade was launched.
Linda was kidnapped at gunpoint by insurgents in Kunar Province, eastern Afghanistan, at around 9.30 to 10.30am on September 26 2010 along with two Afghan colleagues.
Her colleagues were released on October 3, but Linda – who had been on her way to the opening ceremony of a canal project – remained held as negotiations were ongoing with her captors.
It was feared her captors were trying to transport her to hand her over to regional Taliban elders, move her into nearby Pakistan or kill her and a team of 1,000 military workers worked tirelessly to establish where she was being held.
Recording a narrative verdict, coroner David Ridley said Linda, who was ”passionate” about her job and had a ”pure heart and pure mind”, had died from penetrating fragmentation injuries to her head and chest.
He said: ”As a result of the blast Linda survived injuries to her head and chest incompatible with life.
”Both multiples (teams of soldiers) after the bast proceeded to move up towards buildings 11 and 12 where it was believed Linda was being held.
”Linda’s lifeless body was discovered approximately eight minutes later when one of the operatives checking one of the dead captors for explosives saw Linda’s body lying adjacent to the wall of building 25.
”Shortly afterwards Linda was airlifted to Jalalabad airfield where her death was confirmed at 0217 local time.”
Speaking outside the court after the ruling, Linda’s parents Lorna and John Norgrove paid tribute to their ”lovely” daughter who had died after a split-second ”mistake”.
John said: ”Linda was a lovely girl. She was doing good work in Afghanistan.
”She was a force for good in the world and we really miss her.”
Linda’s funeral was held at the Uig Community Centre in the Western Isles and was attended by hundreds.
Her body was interred at Ardroil cemetary, not far from the village of Mangersta where she grew up.