Combat kills, as does a stampeding elephant

20:24, Sep 02 2014

Fighting at the frontline has its dangers, but joining the Defence Force also brings risks from elephants, snowcats and aircraft propellers.

New research into Defence Force personnel who died away from the frontline has identified 1129 people who lost their lives since the end of World War II.

That equates to an average of 16 people a year, a number that rises to just 18 if frontline deaths are included.

The research, commissioned by the Compulsory Military Training and National Service Association and completed by military historian Peter Cooke, includes deaths from all causes while both on and off duty since September 1945.

While illness was the most common cause of death, motor vehicle accidents, followed by plane crashes, were a close second.

Nearly 50 people drowned during the period, while more unusual deaths included being killed by an aircraft's spinning propeller, run over by a freight plane and being slammed by a flapping parachute on the ground.


Two people were in custody at the time of their death, four were absent without leave and three were in armed offenders squad-standoffs or were chased by police. Four had stolen the vehicle in which they died.

The latest casualty, Lieutenant Sam Scott, died during a rugby league match at Linton earlier this month.

Cooke said there had been several surprising discoveries, including the high number of deaths from motorcycle crashes.

"There have been some pretty notable events, there was a guy who was trampled to death by an elephant while serving in Africa and another guy who died in Antarctica while driving a snowcat, he fell into a crevasse."

The number of suicides was also sobering and the actual figure was likely much higher, as the figures did not include suicides since 2006, he said.

During the research some people had told him that only deaths from the frontline were important, but Cooke believed it was important to remember everyone who had died while in service.

"There's still a grieving family, there's still a person who lost their lives while serving. It's nice to give a bit of a nod in the direction of these people's families and say ‘we recognise your loss'."

Medals policy adviser Jack Hayes said initially the Defence Force had not been aware of the research, but when it did find out was extremely interested and had provided Cooke with as much support as possible.

All of the people on the list would qualify for a New Zealand defence service medal, but only a fraction had been awarded.

It was likely many families were unaware their loved ones were eligible for the medal, Hayes said.

The list was likely incomplete and would be added to as more information came forward.

"We don't believe for a second it's 100 per cent correct, we're certain there will be ones that for a number of reasons have fallen through the net."

It was hoped the list would be released publicly within a month.


Total deaths recorded away from the front line since September 1945: 1129

Age range - 16 to 69

Average age - 30.25

Most common age of death - 22

Most common rank at death - Private


Illness or natural causes - 330

Driving collision in a civilian vehicle - 243 (88 motorcycles/scooters)

Driving collision in a service vehicle - 42 (nine armoured vechicles)

Plane crashes - 127 (eight helicopters)

Training incidents - 57

Drowned - 47

Suicide - 44 (up to 2006)

Pedestrians hit by motor vehicle - 24

Falling from or struck by train - 18

Died in mountainous settings - 13

Explosions - 11

Shot by someone else - 11

Died in or just after surgery - 9

Died playing sport - 9

Parachute or paraglider incidents - 5

Electrocuted - 6

Fires in a building - 6

Falling from buildings - 3

Died riding bicycles - 3

Died in underwater diving incidents - 3

Falling down stairs - 2

Fights - 2

Stabbed - 1


New Zealand - 1042

Singapore - 40

Malaya/Malaysia - 14

Australia - 10

UK - 8

Fiji - 4

Hawaii - 3

India/Indian Ocean - 3

Italy - 2

American Samoa - 1

Antarctica - 1

Zimbabwe - 1

* Cause of death only known in 1020 cases.

The Dominion Post