A Royal Marine on a special forces night-time training exercise died after plunging more than 100ft down a steep gorge not marked on the maps his unit had been issued, an inquest has heard.
Ashley Hicks, 25, of Solihull, was leading a six-man team in a tough “escape and evasion” mission near Trawsfynydd in Wales. He stepped over a dry-stone wall, slipped and fell to the bottom.
Shocked fellow Marines described how they heard a thud as he hit the ground far below. Despite the efforts of medics, he stopped breathing after battling for life and was given CPR. He died after being transferred by rescue helicopter to hospital.
Marine Hicks, of 40 Commando – described as “exceptionally capable” – was one of a number of troops injured during the exercise, the inquest in Caernarfon, Gwynedd, heard.
But the gorge was not shown on the unit’s maps and, in the darkness, they had not realised the danger.
Giving evidence from behind a screen, a fellow marine – who can only be identified as “Soldier A” – described how teams were practising the skills they had been taught to survive in the wild and evade an enemy force.
It was part of the selection process in October 2012 for a specialist military unit.
Soldier A, the patrol commander, said Marine Hicks had warned: “It’s getting steep here, so mind your footing.
“But within a few seconds he slipped and had fallen down. There was the sound of him hitting the bottom of the gorge.”
Two of the soldiers made their way down to him while the rest of the patrol activated emergency beacons.
“He was slightly responsive, but barely,” said Soldier A.
“He was conscious but slipping out of consciousness.”
Eventually, the Solihull marine stopped breathing and was given CPR before an RAF rescue helicopter reached the scene.
“The gorge was flanked by thick woodland,” said Soldier A.
“It was difficult to get the winch down into the location because of the treetops.”
Marine Hicks died at Ysbyty Gwynedd hospital in Bangor.
Assistant coroner Nicola Jones heard that, after the accident, another of the seven patrols on exercise ran into trouble. After becoming “spooked”, and mistakenly thinking the hunting force had spotted them, they ran.
One soldier fell 12 metres down the same gorge and injured his leg. His fall was broken by trees.
And soldier A added: “I believe there had been a third, or even perhaps fourth, incident with another group doing a similar exercise who may have struggled under the conditions.”
After the tragedy, exercise organisers ordered soldiers only to move during daylight.
Marine Hicks’ family said he had been a “proud marine, hard as nails but with a soft heart,” adding that they were not seeking to blame anyone but wanted answers so that lessons might be learned.
The hearing continues.