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Tuesday, 22 April 1969

A further report on the death of Corporal Bowtell just received by AHQ confirmed that his death was not related to the use of tear gas, the Minister for the Army, Dr A. J. Forbes, said today.

The Minister was commenting on an earlier statement concerning the death of this soldier in the course of an operation involving the clearance of a complex of Viet Cong tunnels by Australian troops in the Ben Cat area of Vietnam.

The report states that Corporal Bowtell, who was leading a team of engineers searching underground tunnels and chambers, discovered a trapdoor leading to a very small lower tunnel.

On entering this tunnel he became wedged In an almost upright position and complained of lack of air.

A shaft was dug immediately, with difficulty because of the confined space, to enable fresh air to be pumped to him and at the same time efforts were made to drag him free.

When the shaft was completed, air was pumped in but Corporal Bowtell fainted and slipped a little, becoming even more firmly wedged.

To enable him to be freed the shaft was extended but Corporal Bowtell was dead when brought to the higher level.

His death was due to lack of oxygen.

Foul air has since been discovered in pockets in other tunnels which have not been subject to tear gas or smoke.

Investigations suggest that foul air fillers down to lower levels through the tunnel complex producing, under certain circumstances, conditions similar to those to which Corporal Bowtell was exposed.

Detailed examination of the problem by engineers and other technical members is being carried out to determine the most effective solution. lt was emphasised that every precaution was being taken to ensure the safety of soldiers involved in this type of operation.

Special equipment, effective in all cases of air pollution, is available in Vietnam and would be used wherever necessary. (Lists: Gallery Only)

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