Military in deep water

Two recruits in Sweden's amphibious regiment died when two military boats crashed in the Stockholm archipelago on Sunday. The men, who were both aged twenty, were returning from a military exercise in the waters outside Dalarö.

Svenska Dagbladet reported that 800 recruits, 100 officers and 50 boats had taken part in the operation, and they were on their way home in five columns of ten boats. The boats collided near the island of Sollenkroka and the two young men, who were said to have been on the deck of the first boat, a Stridsbåt 90, fell into the water.

A mayday call was sent out immediately and police, the coastguard and helicopter ambulances rushed to the scene, but they were not able to save the men. One died immediately and the other died on the way to hospital.

Two boys witnessed the incident from Sollenkroka and told SvD that the first boat in one of the columns suddenly slowed down, and the second crashed into the back of it, throwing the men into the water. The two boats made it to land and the other shocked recruits got out safely. Many of them helped to get their colleagues out of the water.

“We thought at first it was all part of the exercise,” said one of the boys.

According to Per-Owe Göthberg of Nacka Police, authorities are focusing on why the first boat braked so suddenly and what the recruits were doing on deck – when, according to regulations everyone on board should have been wearing a safety belt.

“We have opened an investigation into a crime against maritime laws. This will show whether anyone has done anything wrong.”

It is normal that military service recruits pilot Stridsbåt 90s, which have a top speed of 40 knots, and the men taking part in the exercise completed their training three months ago.

“Our military training is very good,” said Ulf Eriksson, the press manager of the amphibious regiment. “Our standards are considerably higher than within civil shipping.”

No amount of military training would have helped the pilot and crew of the Swedish DC3 that was shot down over the Baltic Sea by a Soviet fighter plane 52 years ago this week. The incident was commemorated on Sunday in a ceremony at Berga Castle, while on Friday the remains of a fourth member of the eight-man crew was found in the wreckage.

For over 20 years the Swedish government said that the plane was on a routine training mission when it was shot down on 13th June 1952 – and the Soviets claimed that they had nothing to do with it. But in the mid-1970s Sweden admitted that the plane had, in fact, been spying on Soviet radar installations for NATO, and was equipped with British surveillance equipment.

Then in 1991 a Russian pilot declared that he had shot the plane down. Soviet military officials confirmed his story and the defence minister apologised to relatives of the crew.

Despite an extensive search operation at the time, nothing of the downed plane was recovered except a rubber raft. But a private consortium began searching for the wreck in 2000 and finally discovered it on 10th June 2003 in international waters 120km from the Swedish coastline. Although 120m below the surface and partly sunken in the sand, the DC3 was found intact.

Last autumn, DNA analysis on the remains of the first member of the crew to be found identified him as Alvar Älmeberg, the pilot. In April the navigator, Gösta Blad, and the radio operator, Carl Einar Jonsson, were similarly identified.

According to Monday’s Svenska Dagbladet, the remains of the fourth member of the crew were found a few hundred metres away from the main wreckage, along with parts of the fuselage.

But Christer Magnusson, who is leading the investigation, is guarded about the possibility of finding more members of the crew. He said that in the five minutes between the Soviet pilot’s first attack and the plane hitting the water the parachute doors opened – and that could be a problem for investigators.

“We’re pretty sure that [the doors were opened] by the crew onboard,” he told the paper. “If they jumped out it will be very hard to find their remains.”