A soldier who suffered fatal injuries when he was charged at by elephants tried to escape by climbing up a tree, an inquest has heard.
Guardsman Mathew Talbot, 22, from Great Barr, West Midlands, died in May 2019 after the five-man anti-poaching patrol he was part of was charged at by elephants in Liwonde National Park, Malawi.
On Monday, an inquest into his death heard evidence from other members of the patrol who were there on May 5.
The patrol leader, Lance Sergeant Robert Padgham, told the hearing via video-link that he was twice forced to climb a tree to ensure he was not injured by a number of elephants.
In a statement read to the court, he said the group had been patrolling west, through elephant grass when they came across the animals.
He went on: ‘At about 10.00 hours we were patrolling through elephant grass, which is roughly seven feet in height and visibility is limited.
‘An elephant appeared roughly five metres to my right.’
The inquest was told that everyone in the patrol -two soldiers and three park rangers- started running in different directions.
As Gdsm Talbot attempted to climb a ‘prominent branch’ of the tree, he was seen being ‘thrown’ and ‘knocked’ into the air.
LSgt Padgham described the actions of the elephant as a sweeping motion with its head.
He told the court he had lit and thrown a firecracker in an attempt to scare one group of elephants away, and they initially left the scene.
LSgt Padgham, who immediately began first aid, said: ‘As I went down to himinitially, I dragged him into the cover of that tree.’
When asked how quickly the incident had happened the soldier said: ‘The lead ranger gave the signal for dangerous game to the front.
‘We started to back off and then from my right, it came charging through so we just dispersed, like we were taught.’
LSgt Padgham said soldiers on anti-poaching patrols had been taught to fire warning shots, to scare away animals posing a danger, only as a last resort.
He added: ‘In my mind personally, if an attack like that happened and I was in a position to, I would have fired a warning shot.’
But he then explained he had not in 2019 because he was afraid he might have hit Gdsm Talbot if he fired from his position in the tree.
The inquest was told a report into the death had identified the ‘leadership and personal strength’ of LSgt Padgham in evacuating Gdsm Talbot on a stretcher and controlling a haemorrhage as being ‘initially life-saving.’
The court heard how Gdsm Talbot had died from complications of chest and soft tissue injuries.
Statements were also read to the inquest on behalf of the three park rangers who took part in the patrol, including one who said he was aware of an elephant ‘chasing me personally’ – prompting him to fire a warning shot to scare it away.
The inquest, sitting without a jury, follows a Ministry of Defence (MoD) service inquiry, published last year, which highlighted shortcomings in estimating how long it would take to get a casualty from a remote location to the nearest hospital.
In September 2019, the Duke of Sussex honoured the sacrifice of Gdsm Talbot by laying a wreath at a memorial during a visit to Liwonde National Park.
The duke’s handwritten message attached to the wreath read: ‘In grateful memory of Guardsman Talbot who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of his country and conservation. Rest in Peace.’
The inquest will hear evidence over two weeks, covering the command and management of the incident, preparation and procedures in force in Malawi, and resources available at the time.
The hearing continues.
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