THE GIRLFRIEND of a soldier who died when he fell from cliffs on the Jurassic Coast has vowed to go back and finish the climb in his memory.

Samantha-Ann Cunningham told an inquest at County Hall in Dorchester of the tragic moment she watched the ‘love of her life’ Christopher James Martin fall to his death.

The 32-year-old staff sergeant based at Tidworth in Wiltshire and his partner were experienced climbers and had travelled down to the Swanage area on August 23 last year to do some climbing in an area known as Dancing Ledge.

The couple, who were accompanied by their pug dog Barry, had completed one ascent and Sgt Martin was going up on a second climb when he got into difficulty.

After placing one piece of protective kit in the rock Miss Cunningham said he was struggling to place another one further up the cliff face and was on the verge of abandoning the climb when the tragedy occurred.

She said: “His foot or hand slipped, my eyes were on him the whole time and he started falling.”

Miss Cunningham said Sgt Martin fell towards her and hit the ledge at the base of the cliffs near to where she was standing before falling into the sea.

She pulled him out and said her final words to him before rushing off to find help.

Miss Cunningham said: “I told him to keep calm and I love you.”

She found a National Trust working party nearby and they radioed for help.

Miss Cunningham said: “Everyone around was doing their best to look after me and stop me going back to Chris as I was going into shock.”

Sgt Martin, who was originally from Winsford in Cheshire, was airlifted to Dorset County Hospital by the Coastguard helicopter but was pronounced dead on arrival.

After the inquest, at which Dorset Coroner Sheriff Payne recorded a verdict of death as a result of an accident, Miss Cunningham said: “Chris was just a consummate professional, he was strong-willed, fun-loving and lived life to the max.

“This tragic loss shouldn’t stop me or others from pushing themselves to go the extra mile. He really was the love of my life and I will go back and complete that climb for him.”

Miss Cunningham also praised the local emergency service teams who battled in vain to save Sgt Martin. She said: “I would like to say a special thanks to Wareham Police and the coastguard who went above and beyond.”

Kit was in full working order

THE INQUEST was told that Sgt Martin’s climbing equipment was in full working order and the experienced climber had done nothing wrong in his approach to the climb.

Police Constable David Taylor, a climbing expert with Dorset Police, said he had inspected Sgt Martin’s kit and could not find any fault with it.

He said it appeared the soldier had been unable to place in a second piece of protective kit further up the cliff face and when he fell it was likely the first had forced itself free from the rock.

PC Taylor added that from his knowledge of the incident Sgt Martin was sufficiently prepared and had taken all reasonable precautions for the climb.”

He said: “I don’t think there is any way that I personally would have done it differently.” Pathologist Dr Mark Deverell said that Sgt Martin had died from a ruptured aorta and had also sustained multiple fractures in the fall.

As he recorded his verdict, Dorset Coroner Sheriff Payne, pictured left, said: “We are not talking about any lack of skills in this case, sadly this has just been a matter of an accident.”