Friday, March 5, 2010

British Chinook pilot rescues comrades after being shot between the eyes

Sky News reports that a British helicopter pilot completed his mission to fly into a firefight of the Marjah offensive in Afghanistan and evacuate his wounded American allies after being shot between the eyes:
A British pilot got shot between the eyes as he flew his Chinook helicopter into a firefight in Afghanistan - but he still managed to land safely and rescue all 20 people on board.

Flight Lieutenant Ian Fortune, 28, was sent in to Helmand Province to rescue casualties as a ferocious battle raged between American and Afghan troops and Taliban rebels.

As he approached the fire-zone the fighting was so intense he had to circle the area several times until it was safe to land.

But when he flew in and began loading casualties, the Taliban turned their fire on his Chinook, Bravo November.

Flight Lt Fortune was able to get the chopper off the ground but it was during take-off that a bullet pierced the helicopter and ricocheted off the metal bar on his helmet... right between his eyes.

If the bullet had hit the pilot a millimetre lower, those on board wouldn't have stood a chance

Further rounds then struck the helicopter's automatic stabilisation system, shutting it down and making it extremely difficult to fly.

Despite blood streaming into his eyes, Flight Lt Fortune battled with the controls for eight minutes and managed to get the casualties back to Camp Bastion.

TV Presenter Mike Brewer was on the helicopter when the incident happened. He told Sky News:

"It was terrifying. We came under fire just as the ramp was closing. Then just after we'd taken off the Chinook suddenly lurched from side to side and we heard the pilot had been shot.

"The only reason we didn't plunge straight back into the desert was because of the sheer bravery and skill of Ian and the rest of the crew. They're all heroes."

An RAF source said: "This could have become one of the worst incidents of the conflict.

"If the bullet had hit the pilot a millimetre lower, those on board wouldn't have stood a chance.

"And had it not been for the skill of the pilot the result would have been the same."

Flight Lt Fortune was treated at a military hospital in Camp Bastion and is expected to make a full recovery.

Bravo November is one of the luckiest and oldest-surviving Chinooks in the British fleet, having first seen service in the Falklands.

While based on the Atlantic Conveyor, it just happened to be airborne when the ship was sunk by two exocet missiles in 1982, killing 12 of the crew.

On another mission it ran into a blizzard on its way to San Carlos Water and crashed into the sea at 100 knots.

Despite water swamping the cockpit and engines, Bravo November still managed to get airborne again due to the bravery of pilot Richard Langworthy.

The Chinook is traditionally used in air-assault missions, dropping troops into fire bases and later bringing food, water and ammunition.
The Telegraph (UK) interviewed one of Flight Lt. Fortune's "fortunate" passengers:
Mike Brewer, a television presenter who was on board filming a documentary at the time, said: "The courage and heroism of the pilot was beyond belief."
Let me take this opportunity to send our deepest thanks to the brave men and women of the British Armed Forces, and the RAF in particular, who are putting their lives on the line, shoulder to shoulder with our American heroes in Afghanistan.  And a big thank you to Flt Lt Fortune and veteran Chinook Bravo November.  God bless you both.

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