A Coleraine soldier killed in Afghanistan on Remembrance Sunday last year was “one of the best”, an inquest has heard.
Ranger Aaron McCormick, 22, was caught in a blast while out on patrol in the Nad’e Ali area of Helmand province.
The soldier, from 1st Battalion, The Royal Irish Regiment (1st Bn, RIR), had been helping clear improvised explosive devices (IEDs) when he was killed.
His death on November 14 came as Prince William flew into Camp Bastion with Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox for a service of remembrance.
Ranger McCormick, from Macosquin, was known as Vallon Man, the soldier in a patrol who carries the mine detector.
Sergeant Peter Keogh, who led the patrol, told the inquest in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, that a line of stones had been left near their checkpoint, which they believed to be the work of local residents identifying the location of an IED.
The patrol went to investigate, and Ranger McCormick lay on the floor to examine the area for around five minutes.
Sgt Keogh, who was close behind when the device went off, said: “I remember watching at the time. He shifted his weight. He did something. He moved and the device functioned.
“I was just behind him. I was blown off my feet.”
He added that there was “a large bang” and then he lost sight of him.
“My initial concern was that he was gone. I started shouting his name. The guys behind me said he was over the wall.”
When asked if there was any sign of life when the patrol found Ranger McCormick, Sgt Keogh replied “no, there was not”. His body was then evacuated to Camp Bastion, where his death was confirmed.
Ranger Gavin Edgar, who was behind Sgt Keogh, told the inquest that shortly before the fatal blast Ranger McCormick had laughed after hearing a separate explosion several kilometres away.
An explosives expert said the device was “a low metal content pressure plate IED” which was “operated sadly by the victim making contact with the pressure plate”.
A post-mortem found cause of death to be blast injuries.
Pathologist Russell Delaney said the injuries were non-survivable: “There was nothing that his colleagues could have done to save him.”
Sgt Keogh paid tribute to Ranger McCormick and told his parents, Lesley and Margaret, who attended the inquest: “Mr and Mrs McCormick, I’m really sorry for what’s happened. If I could trade places with Aaron I would.
“There is not a day that goes by when I don’t remember him. He was a friend and a colleague. He was one of the best.”
David Ridley, coroner for Wiltshire and Swindon, recorded a verdict of unlawful killing while on service in Afghanistan.
Speaking at the time of her son’s death, Mrs McCormick said: “We were so proud of Aaron and stood by him knowing the commitment he gave to everything he wanted to do.
“Of course we were concerned and anxious but we all supported him. Aaron was the perfect son, brother and uncle.
“He gave so much of himself in everything he did and he loved to be here with his family and friends. He also loved being with his many friends in the Royal Irish Regiment.
“His brother Michael, sisters Tammy and Carrie-Ann are shattered and feel such a loss. And there’s also his niece, four-year-old Tamara, who carries Aaron’s photograph proudly telling everyone it’s her uncle.”
Lieutenant Colonel Colin Weir MBE, com manding officer, 1st Bn, RIR, said: “Ranger Aaron McCormick was the epitome of the Irish Infantry soldier: tough; selfless; good-humoured and full of compassion.
“Today, there is a gap in our ranks which no ordinary man could fill. He was the best of his country and we mourn his loss.”
Ranger McCormick was a Star Wars fan, and his fellow soldiers nicknamed him Jedi.
He left behind his parents, two sisters, brother and his girlfriend.