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10 November 2010, 05:00 | Updated: 10 November 2010, 13:27
A Suffolk-based airman who died in a boating accident in Cyprus as he returned home from a tour of duty in Afghanistan has been described by his family as "beautiful, brave and fun-loving''.
20-year-old Senior Aircraftman Scott Hughes from North Wales, died on Sunday when he was hit by a powerboat while swimming in the sea on Friday, the Ministry of Defence said.
The gunner, from 1 Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment, based at RAF Honington near Thetford was due to return to Britain on Saturday after six months' service in Afghanistan.
An investigation has been launched.
SAC Hughes, who joined the RAF in January 2009, was named top student on a Squadron Mortar Cadre in November 2009, according to an MOD spokesman.
In Afghanistan, he was employed as top cover on the lead patrol vehicle as well as a signaller on the medical emergency response team helicopter where he helped in the evacuation of casualties.
The MoD said he was relaxing with his friends and colleagues on the island of Cyprus following the tour when he was involved in the accident.
In a statement, SAC Hughes' family, including parents Emma and Michael and younger brother Adam, said: ``Our beautiful, brave, fun-loving son has been cruelly taken away from us, but we know that Scott fulfilled his dreams by serving his regiment and his country.
"Words cannot express the loss we as a family are feeling at this time and a huge void will be in our lives without Scott forever more.''
Paying tribute, Wing Commander Paul Weaver Smith, officer commanding 4 Royal Air Force Force Protection Wing, said: "Scott Hughes was a highly respected and utterly professional young man with a very promising career ahead of him in the Royal Air Force Regiment.
His tragic death has hit the Wing hard; our thoughts and prayers are with his family in this very difficult time. Per Ardua.''
Describing the death as a "tragedy'', Squadron Leader David Crook, Officer Commanding 1 Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment, said: ``Scott was an extremely professional and brave young man, who spent his last six months risking his life to protect and save others. Scott was fiercely proud of his Regiment and we are fiercely proud of him. He will be deeply missed and never forgotten.''
According to Flying Officer Christopher Taylor, Officer Commanding C Flight, 1 Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment, the airman was a "young, energetic and popular Gunner who was utterly committed to his career. It was a job that he loved and he was an immensely professional and capable man,'' he said. "During his tour in Afghanistan, his skill and dedication helped to protect the lives of countless ISAF personnel and Afghan civilians.
"It is a great tragedy that, having safely completed this tour, he should be killed in an environment designed to help him recover from the pressures of operations.''
Corporal Christopher Sheehan, C Flight, 1 Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment, said: "I had the pleasure of working with Scott during our tour of Afghanistan. He was the top cover (machine gunner) in my vehicle and we were in the lead for every patrol.
Throughout our time on tour, Scott was always full of morale and practical jokes, making life a little easier for everyone. Scott stayed switched on and professional throughout the whole time, and I knew that he could always be relied upon to do any job, no matter how tough.''
Senior Aircraftman James Carpenter, B Flight, 1 Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment, said: "Scotty Hughes was one of the most professional soldiers I have ever had the honour to work with. He excelled at everything he did and he will be dearly missed.''
Senior Aircraftman Ross Merison, B Flight, 1 Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment, said: ``It was a great honour to work with Scotty, especially alongside him in Afghan over the past 6 months. He was always lifting the morale of the boys by cracking jokes and having us in fits of laughter. He was such a professional gunner and would be the first to volunteer if a job needed doing.''
Senior Aircraftman James Cartledge, B Flight, 1 Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment, said: ``Scott was one of my closest friends in and out of work. I first met Scott on basic training when he was the senior man on the course. Scott was genuinely one of the best soldiers I have had the pleasure of working with. I will miss him so much, and my heart goes out to his family and friends who he was so proud of.''
Defence secretary Dr Liam Fox said: ``I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Senior Aircraftman Hughes in a tragic accident in Cyprus. He was returning home from what I understand to be a highly successful tour in Afghanistan where he demonstrated to his colleagues and senior officers utter professionalism, courage and natural ability for his role as Gunner. My thoughts go to his family and friends at this extremely sad time."