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Gunner Psaila's death: Procedures ahead of ill-fated exercise explained

The site where the fatal incident took place.

The site where the fatal incident took place.

One of the two soldiers charged with the manslaughter of Gunner Matthew Psaila during an AFM training exercise in Chadwick Lakes four years ago today described the precautions taken ahead of the exercise.

The evidence was given by Lance Corporal Marvic Peregin, 32, who together with Lt. Christian Vella, has been taken to court in connection with the case.

He said that two weeks before the incident, he had a meeting with instructors about the training exercise.

"We discussed everything from equipment to safety gear and vehicles."

He had also taken part in a reconnaissance of the site in Chadwick Lakes and checked the level of the water and other obstacles. A stick was used to measure the depth of the water since no other instruments were available. The temperature was also checked.

"We put our feet in the water to check the temperature. We noted that the water was deep and informed all the instructors and participants."

The day before the exercise all the participants were told once again what they were going to do.

On the day in question they were given a safety brief.

Mr Peregin said that Lt Vella asked the participants if they had any problems regarding swimming. Nobody answered. He had explained to them that there would be places where they would have to swim.

One of the participants, Gunner Galea, said that although he could swim he still found himself in difficulty.  He was told him to stay at the back of the group so that an eye could be kept on him.

The exercise began and the soldiers were walking normally, carrying a log on their shoulders. The first obstacle was a flight of stairs and the second was water. He told the soldiers that they had to swim.

The soldiers went into the water twice. He saw a gunner in difficulty and trying to get out. Another soldier,  Gunner Borg told me that she was having problems keeping afloat. He looked back and saw another soldier panicking.

Gunner Galea began panicking too and he pulled him back.

At that point Lt. Vella took hold of Gunner Galea and then he started a headcount. Somebody shouted for Gunner Psaila but he didn't reply.

"We jumped into the water for an extended line search. We swept the area with five soldiers. We found Gunner Psaila under water. I saw a helmet coming up and we pulled him up on the bank.  Gunner Attard began carrying out CPR. I managed to count the rest of the men.

"We stopped the exercise. Lt Vella began shouting for an ambulance. We tore off the soldier's clothes to put him In a sleeping bag to warm him up.

"The ambulance didn't turn up so we decided to put him on the stretcher and onto the Land Rover to meet the ambulance on the way."

The witness recounted his sorrow for what had happened and said that whenever he saw his old locker he had a flashback of him in the water.

"I'm accused of killing him but my life has been on hold for four years."

At this point Gunner Psaila's father was seen crying.

During cross-examination, Gunner Peregin said soldiers were trained for every situation from the cold of Georgia to the heat of Uganda.

On the morning of the incident, there were no major changes in conditions compared to the previous day.

He said the troop only had five life rings and he could not afford to keep one of them for one person, ie Gunner Galea. He was there near him and he also had the log to hold on to.

He did not feel that divers were needed. This was an excercise that had been going on for 15 years one to two times a year, without serious incident

Defence lawyer Steve Tonna Lowell said that Mr Peregin was not aided by a lawyer during the investigation and a reference was being made to other judgements on this point.

Michael Tanti Dougall for the family said that he made reference to the accused's testimony given in the magisterial inquiry and this was nothing stopping him from referring to it.

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