Some three hundred Portuguese and foreign military officers were endangered and two cadet soldiers critically wounded when fighter planes strafed the wrong area with live ammunition in Portugal on Wednesday (25 July).
Some three hundred Portuguese and foreign military officers were endangered and two cadet soldiers critically wounded when fighter planes strafed the wrong area with live ammunition in Portugal on Wednesday (25 July). The accident happened at Santa Margarida, south-east of Lisbon, during military exercises to commemorate Portugal's Army Day. One cadet, struck in the back by machine gun bullets, died the following day in hospital. The other cadet had a leg amputated and was in critical condition. British military attache, Colonel Brian O'Hara, who was present as an observer, said later there was no doubt the planes mistook a map board on the ground near the reviewing stand for their white-painted target. Bullets struck the ground less than ten yards (3 metres) from the stand, among whose occupants were Portugal's Defence Minister, Colonel Loureiro dos Santos and Army Chief of Staff, General Pedro Cardoso.
SYNOPSIS: The day began with ceremonials. A bugler draws tanks and armoured car crews to attention for a presentation of medals.
The men were to see their comrades decorated, and to undergo a review by officers, before the more intricate business of the day -- the manoeuvres -- got under way.
A sergeant is decorated for his services during the colonial wars in Angola six years ago.
As a prelude to the exercise, officers and foreign military advisers were arrayed on stands while the Army Chief of Staff, General Cardoso, explained the purposes and patterns of the exercises. Ground and air units were to be used in the customary Army Day battle between opposing forces.
The tanks lumber off to be deployed in their attacking and defensive roles.
Clouds of black smoke billow upwards as the attacking aircraft drop their bomb loads before the accident took place.
Three Fiat-Eighty-One trainer aircraft were used on the strafing mission. The first had flown over to line up the 'enemy' target. The second followed with a burst of machine gun fire that scattered civilian spectators and journalists -- although some stayed unruffled.
It was cannon fire from the third aircraft that struck the two cadets, who were in a group of fifty flanking the reviewing stand. When they fell, their colleagues sprang to their aid.
Colonel O'Hara said that, had the aircraft been loaded with the regular explosive cannon rounds used in real combat, the destruction -- and potential injuries -- would have been far more serious. The strafing fire had been meant to fall at least a thousand metres (yards) from the stands.