A young soldier who collapsed and died on an Army fitness test was “panting” and complained of cramp before falling to the ground, an inquest heard.
Corporal Joshua Hoole, described as “capable and determined” died within an hour of collapsing during an annual fitness test (AFT) at Brecon, Wales, on the morning of July 19, 2016.
An inquest into his death heard on Wednesday that soldiers were aware it was to be “the hottest day of the year” and the march’s start time had been set earlier to 7am, because of the expected weather.
The 26-year-old was described as breathing rapidly earlier on in the timed march, after finishing hill climbs which make up the first half of the route.
Corporal Ben Johnson, then a lance corporal, was the closest witness to Cpl Hoole’s later fatal collapse at the Army’s infantry battle school at Dering Lines, just 400m from the eight-mile course’s finish line.
He recalled Cpl Hoole “seemed fine”, but by the time they were nearing the finish he had “dropped back”.
“I didn’t realise he was there, until I looked back and saw him,” he said.
Describing the collapse, he told Birmingham Coroner’s Court: “As we came into the camp, he was only a couple of metres away.
“Then he came dead in line with me, and literally said ‘I’ve got cramp, I’ve got cramp’ and collapsed.”
The corporal said: “He looked like he had strain on his face, he was red in the face.
“When you get cramps, your face tenses up and the way he looked, he looked like he’d got cramp.”
He added: “When he tensed up, he fell to the right towards the kerb and as he went, the Colour Serjeant went to try and catch him.
“He had his hands on his weapon, all the way down.”
The inquest has heard that of the 41 corporals and lance corporals taking part in the AFT that day, 18 pulled out, collapsed or withdrew – a rate of 42%.
Senior coroner Louise Hunt has also previously heard the average drop-out rate on the same route for the whole of the previous year had been 3%.
Cpl Johnson described noticing Cpl Hoole’s unusual breathing at a brief water stop, at the half-way point. of the march, in which soldiers were carrying 25kg (55lb) of kit.
He said: “It was literally like really, really quick, like hyperventilating, like panting.”
As Cpl Hoole collapsed, two base medics joined efforts to carry out CPR and get a defibrillator onto his chest.
Combat medic technician Amy Darbyshire, now a civilian student paramedic, said she and Corporal William Wilson, had “never driven so fast” to cover the 100m distance from the medical centre to the scene.
She said: “I saw Cpl Hoole on the floor.
“There was the medic, he was there, and I couldn’t tell you how many other people were around, but others were helping and assisting and already carrying out CPR.”
She added her recollection was a defibrillator was already on Cpl Hoole, but that she had also brought one with her.
Ms Darbyshire, for whom this was her first cardiac arrest, said they went through “seven cycles of CPR and every time it said, ‘no shock advised’”.
The medics changed defibrillators “to make sure there wasn’t an issue”, but “got the same” result, she added.
Army medics then carried on assisting after first paramedics and then the air ambulance and its on-board doctor arrived.
Experienced medic Cpl Wilson said his memory was no CPR was being carried out and no defibrillator was attached when he and Ms Darbyshire first arrived.
He recalled that the march’s medic was trying to clear Cpl Hoole’s airway.
Cpl Wilson described some “confusion” over why the defibrillator was not shocking, so the base medics tried their own to see if it got a different reading.
He said: “There was a moment in time it clicked and I thought ‘it’s a non-shockable rhythm’, because the first wouldn’t let me shock, the second wouldn’t let me either.
“I thought ‘what’s going on’ – and then the penny dropped.”
He added that the medics had been trained to use the device.
Critical care doctor Owen McIntyre, who was on the air ambulance, said Army medics made “a good decision” changing defibrillators, therefore confirming there was no shockable rhythm.
Dr McIntyre added that civilian paramedics, arriving by ambulance before the helicopter, had got the same result on their own device.
He added it “would appear” Cpl Hoole had been showing some signs of heat stress.
The inquest continues.