Troop carrier in 'power slide' before death

An Australian Army M113 armoured personnel carrier.
An Australian Army M113 armoured personnel carrier.

Questioned today about a soldier who rolled an armoured personnel carrier, killing another soldier, the former commanding officer at the Puckapunyal army base told a court soldiers were allowed to have fun on the job, but within reason.

Colonel Roger Symons said the manoeuvre, known as a power slide, performed by Private Anthony Brandt when he braked heavily, causing the 11-tonne APC to slide sideways before it tipped over, was not common on the base.

Colonel Symons told the County Court on the second day of Private Brandt's trial that soldiers were allowed to enjoy their work as long as they remained safe and efficient.

He described Private Brandt's actions as "skylarking".

Private Brandt, 28, has pleaded not guilty to dangerous driving causing death over the June 26, 2009, incident.

He was driving the M113A1 APC at speed down a slope during what has been described as a sophisticated hide-and-seek training exercise on the army base near Seymour.

Private David Jon Smith, 25, was commanding the vehicle with his head outside the turret when it rolled. He died of chest and abdominal injuries.

Cross-examined today by defence barrister, John Dickinson, SC, Colonel Symons was asked if the Army was "looking for a scapegoat" over the accident.

Prosecutor Chris Dane, QC, immediately objected to the question, saying Colonel Symons was not in a position to ask what the Army was doing.

Judge Mark Taft directed Mr Dickinson to move on with his questioning.

Mr Dickinson put it to Colonel Symons that during the army's commission of inquiry into the incident, he was told there were two schools of thought regarding the practice of power sliding the APCs.

He said senior officers believed it was not common practice but every soldier who drove APCs had a different view.

Colonel Symons disagreed with the claim, saying the APCs were dangerous vehicles not designed to slide sideways as this was outside their "performance envelope".

Colonel Symons added that the Army did not train soldiers in this way.

"There is no effective control over the vehicle if it is sliding sideways."

Warrant Officer Marcus Hovington told the court the APCs could reach a maximum speed of 63km/h but could go faster downhill.

The APC is driven by one person and commanded by another. The person who commands the vehicle looks out the top of the vehicle from the turret.

The accident happened on the last day of a training exercise where two APCs, including the one driven by Private Brandt, were directed by their superiors to a particular grid reference on the map. Other soldiers were then tasked to try to find them.

On the way, the two armoured personnel carriers engaged in activity that was not part of the planned exercise, Mr Dane said.

They went down a gentle slope one at a time before the driver would pull hard on one of the levers, causing the vehicle to turn and slide.

The manoeuvre was similar to a motorist pulling the hand brake at speed, causing the car to travel at right angles.

After completing the manoeuvre once, the soldiers decided to do it again which is when the accident happened.

Mr Dane said Private Brandt's vehicle was observed to be moving faster the second time around.

The trial continues.

This story Troop carrier in 'power slide' before death first appeared on The Age.