THE bodies of five Hampshire servicemen killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan are being repatriated to the UK today.
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.
Captain Thomas Ellis Clarke, Rakesh Chauhan, Spencer Faulkner, Oliver Matthew Thomas.
They lost their lives together with Flight Lieutenant Rakesh Chauhan of the Royal Air Force and Lance Corporal Oliver Thomas of the Intelligence Corps, who were believed to have been passengers on the flight.
The RAF Odiham based team's helicopter went down in Kandahar province, 30 miles from the border with Pakistan, on the morning of April 26.
The Ministry of Defence (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.
The five servicemen will be flown into RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire before a private ceremony takes place at the air base. The cortege will then pass the Memorial Garden in Carterton before heading to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.
The MoD and the families of the five men paid tribute to them following their deaths.
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''.
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.
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''.
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''.
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.
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.
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.
The incident equalled 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.