B3/2005Y Mortar Accident at the Rovajärvi Shooting Zone 2 December, 2005
A mortar accident occurred during the artillery and mortar war and shooting exercise at the Rovajärvi shooting zone in Northern Finland on 2 December 2005 at 10.27.51 AM. One conscript lost his life and five were seriously injured. One member of the mortar squad made it unscathed.
The mortar company included 9 heavy-weight 120 mm mortars. Each mortar was manned by a mortar squad. The squad was to fire nine mortar bombs within 60 s. With the accident squad in question, the shooting of the first six mortar bombs went without incident, but after the sixth mortar bomb the mortar blew apart violently.
Personnel from the mortar company began rescue operations immediately. Soon personnel from the Defence Forces’ medical service began arriving from all around the shooting zone. The rescue helicopter Aslak, civil ambulances and civil emergency services were also called out. Considering the circumstances, all those injured were hospitalised quickly.
Investigations of the barrel and bomb parts show that there were two mortar bombs in the barrel when the bombs were being fired. In effect, the squad in question had double loaded the mortar. This is further supported by video evidence filmed by a conscript that was furnished to the accident investigation commission. Because the mortar is muzzle-loaded, it can accidentally be double loaded. The risk of accidentally double loading the mortar has been known of from at least the 1940s and accidents and incidents have happened before. Guidelines, training and monitoring have been enforced so as to try and prevent double loading from occurring.
Double loading did happen this time because the squad leader as well as the conscript in charge of loading the mortar – they are the ones who perform the actual load and fire operation – lost track of events when they were at their seventh bomb. No-one in the squad nor the squad leader and neither of the two supervisors noticed the threatening situation, which developed very rapidly.
Momentarily losing track is nothing unusual, it happens to everyone. Absent-mindedness occurred when the mortar squad was figuring out the number of bombs that had already been fired. The situation was aggravated by accumulated fatigue, the fact that the verbal load-command was not being used and that the ammunition carrier instead of the loader held the mortar’s bipod. Based on the training the squad had received earlier, the mortar squad should have known the drill, but they deviated from previously trained procedure. This was probably because despite their previous experience the squad did not know how the finer points of each step affect safety. People also tend to take short-cuts when they experience fatigue.
The accident investigation commission recommends that the Defence Forces put together a cohesive security organization that would be able to make sure that security matters are adequately taken into consideration in all activities. In addition, the commission recommends that a thorough point by point risk-analysis be conducted on the use of heavy mortars. Defence force accident inquiries, risk analysis and the maintenance of accident statistics should also be stepped up. Because occupational safety regulations do not apply to military exercises or training, a separate entity of norms dictating what safety principles and minimum standards are to be adhered to during such activities is needed. In order to develop medical services, a contingency plan that is more specific than the current medical service guidelines should be written for shooting areas. The accident investigation commission has issued some suggestions that deal with particular details pertaining to safety as well.