Pilot recognised for Afghan bravery
A Chinook pilot who rescued troops under heavy fire, despite one of the helicopter's two engines being disabled, has been recognised in the latest Operational Honours.
Flight Lieutenant Christopher Gordon is awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for the rescue in Helmand Province in August, in which he is said to have shown "exemplary flying skills and considerable courage".
The 29-year-old, from Manchester, was the lead captain of two Chinook helicopters who had taken some 60 British and Afghan troops into an insurgent "safe haven" in Helmand Province. But as they tried to pick the troops up, they came under heavy fire and were forced to retreat back to Camp Bastion for fuel.
With no sign of being able to get out, Flt Lt Gordon persuaded his crews to extract the troops before the Apache helicopters providing them with air support were forced to leave due to lack of fuel. "As we landed we heard the sound of metal hitting metal, gunshot sounds," he said.
The Chinook was hit twice - once in one of its two engines, leaving it with just one working, and another shot hit its airframe. Flt Lt Gordon was forced to make a quick calculation to work out if he could still take off with 30 soldiers on board, despite only having one engine.
"I thought, 'You can pull this off'," he said, and signalled to his crew to get the troops on board. "They all ran towards the aircraft, one soldier was shot through the leg, quite minor, I think it just grazed him. From the numbers I had calculated we had a good chance that it could work but nothing was going to be certain."
With the extra weight and limited power, he was forced to fly the Chinook some three miles at a height of just 15-20ft - compared to the usual 50ft flying height.
"As the dust cloud was created I couldn't see anything in front of me," he said, so followed the ruts in the ploughed fields to check his direction. "I wanted to make sure, the good engine, I wasn't going to overload it or overcook it. We have various limits, then there are the 'only use in an extraordinary circumstance' ones, which this was."
With 30 troops on board his Chinook, and the other 30 on the other one, they returned to Camp Bastion, where despite a "reasonably heavy landing", they arrived safely.
Receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross - awarded in recognition of exemplary gallantry during active operations - he said: "It was very humbling to receive it. It shows all the effort that the aircrew and our engineers work extremely hard to make sure we can get airborne."