First picture of Birmingham serviceman killed in Afghanistan helicopter crash

This is the first picture of the Birmingham serviceman who was one of five killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.

Captain Thomas Clarke, Warrant Officer Spencer Faulkner and Corporal James Walters, all of the Army Air Corps (AAC) were serving as the Lynx aircraft's three-man team when they died.

They lost their lives together with Flight Lieutenant Rakesh Chauhan of the Royal Air Force, from Birmingham, and Lance Corporal Oliver Thomas of the Intelligence Corps, believed to have been passengers on the flight.

Their helicopter went down in Kandahar province, 30 miles from the border with Pakistan, on Saturday morning.

The MoD has denied claims by the Taliban that insurgents shot the helicopter down, with initial investigations indicating a "tragic accident" rather than enemy action as the cause of the crash.

Group Captain Richard Maddison, Station Commander at RAF Odiham, where all of five men except L/Cpl Thomas were based, said: "As with all losses of personnel in Afghanistan, we mourn the loss of our most capable and dedicated personnel, who served without complaint and in full understanding of the risks associated with their roles.

"They were fine ambassadors for their unit and for defence as a whole, and we shall not forget them."

Capt Clarke, 30, from Cowbridge, south Wales, was a pilot and "rising star" in the AAC who was "full of life and immensely committed to his soldiers and friends".

His family, which includes wife Angie, said: "We cannot express enough our devastation at the loss of a truly wonderful husband, son, brother and friend.

"Tom brought so much happiness and love to everyone he knew with his sparkling blue eyes and cheeky smile.

"He had an absolute passion for life and was the best part of us - we are all poorer today without him."

WO Faulkner, 38, was an "experienced aviator, loving husband and hugely dedicated father to two children" who had been deployed to Afghanistan on numerous occasions.

"Spen was a loving husband to Cally and devoted father to Natasha and Jack, and will be greatly missed," the pilot's family said.

"A huge gap has been left in our hearts forever. He has been tragically taken away whilst serving his country, a job he loved. God rest his soul."

Cpl Walters, 36, known as Bungle, was a "highly respected" junior non-commissioned officer who had deployed to Afghanistan on numerous occasions.

Regularly at the centre of any debate, especially when the subject involved rugby or Cornwall, the helicopter's gunner was known to be a "consummate professional".

His bereaved relatives said: "We cannot begin to comprehend the tragic loss of a beautiful and loving husband, daddy, son, and brother. James has left a huge hole in all our hearts."

Flt Lt Chauhan, 29, from Birmingham, was on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan as an intelligence officer when he died.

Known as Rak to his comrades, he was said to be "charming, funny and sharp as a tack".

His commanding officer, who has not been named, said: "Flight Lieutenant Rakesh Chauhan was a hugely influential and well respected officer whose enthusiasm and professionalism permeated every aspect of his work. Charming, funny and sharp as a tack, he was immensely proud of his role and of his service.

"An exceptional officer, he clearly had a bright future ahead of him. His loss has devastated the station and our thoughts and prayers are very much with his family and friends."

The commander of the deployed Lynx detachment said of him: "Flight Lieutenant Rakesh Chauhan, or ‘Rak’ to his friends, was an outstanding Royal Air Force officer in every respect. Bright, articulate, charismatic and loyal, he was a pleasure to be around. Certainly the best Intelligence Branch officer I have known, his presentations were considered essential viewing by aircrew and others alike.

"A rising star of the Royal Air Force, Rak was a team player in every respect and worked passionately for those around him. One of my go-to individuals, he would unselfishly take on additional work, safe in the knowledge that his peers would do less as a result.

"His positive attitude was infectious and he would always be seen with a bright smile on his face. His sense of humour was contagious and you could guarantee he would be at the centre of any laughter in the room.

"Not only did I have the privilege of commanding Rak in Afghanistan but he also worked directly for me at RAF Odiham. He commanded a small team of dedicated intelligence personnel with skill, humility and professionalism; they will miss him.

"Rak was my midweek neighbour in the officers’ mess and we were close friends both in and outside of work. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him but my thoughts and prayers are with his family at this extremely difficult time."

L/Cpl Thomas, 26, from Brecon in Powys, Mid Wales, had volunteered for deployment to Afghanistan and arrived there in December last year.

His family described him as a " truly amazing person, living his life to the full, while fulfilling some of his many dreams and adventures".

The helicopter in which the men were travelling is believed to have been from AAC 657 Squadron, a top unit based at RAF Odiham which provides support and transport for special forces troops.

Explaining the role of 657 Squadron in special forces operations, defence analyst Paul Beaver said: "These are units which support special forces across the board.

"Pilots and aircrews are selected for their ability to carry out these special tasks.

"Pilots are selected for their flying skills and length of term.

"Most will at least be on their second or third tour and more is expected of them than of others."

The aircraft went down in the Takhta Pul district of Kandahar, in what was the worst incident involving a British military helicopter in Afghanistan since the war began there in 2001.

An investigation led by the Military Aviation Authority is under way to establish the cause of the crash, but the rest of the Lynx helicopters deployed in Afghanistan have not been grounded.

After paying tribute to the victims, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: "Lynx Mk 9A helicopters have a good operational safety record and commanders have judged that it is safe for the fleet to continue to operate while the investigation is carried out."

The crash caused the third biggest single loss of life of British troops since the conflict in Afghanistan began and brought the total number of service personnel killed there to 453.

Yesterday's incident equals the previous worst disaster involving a British helicopter, when a Lynx aircraft crashed in Basra City, Iraq, in May 2006 killing the five service personnel on board.

Nato forces are currently preparing to withdraw combat troops by the end of this year, with responsibility for fighting the Taliban uprising handed over to the Afghan army and police.

So far this year, 23 Nato troops are thought to have been killed in Afghanistan.