A Royal Air Force Chinook pilot who skilfully guided his helicopter through dense fog to try and save an Afghan soldier’s life has been awarded a Queen’s Commendation for Bravery in the Air.
Chinook Pilot Flt Lt Christopher Gent31-year-old Flight Lieutenant Chris Gent, of 27 Squadron at RAF Odiham, Hampshire, was among 23 RAF personnel honoured in the latest Armed Forces Operational Awards and Joint Commanders Commendations for their bravery and service.
Despite minimal visibility, Flt Lt Gent, from Swanage, Dorset, flew his Chinook on a Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT) mission to try and save the life of an Afghan National Army soldier, who had been shot in the head by insurgents on Thursday, 20 December 2012.
The man would die without immediate aeromedical evacuation to hospital, but with fog reducing visibility to only 50 to 100 metres around Camp Bastion and patches across Helmand Province, far below the 1000 metres stipulated for safe flight, all UK and US helicopters at the camp had been grounded.
However, given the life-saving imperative, Flt Lt Gent’s crew were authorised to recover the injured man. Displaying exemplary aircraft handling, Flt Lt Gent flew low to remain in sight of the surface, located the casualty and worked with an accompanying Apache helicopter to find a gap in the fog and land.
With the injured soldier onboard and his condition deteriorating, the team retraced the tricky return to Camp Bastion, despite the high risk of coming under fire from insurgents. Sadly, despite the crew’s best efforts, the man died of his injuries.
Speaking about the mission, and his team’s role in Afghanistan, Flt Lt Gent said: “The flying conditions were dire but we absolutely needed to fly because we knew the man would very quickly die without our help.
“RAF pilots are highly-trained for these scenarios, and I was aided by the aircraft’s high-tech navigational instruments and my crew, who were my extra eyes in the fog.
“Helping injured people and saving lives are the most important things my team do in Afghanistan, regardless of weather or nationality. We did everything in our power to try and save the soldier on this occasion and were saddened to learn he had passed away.”
Flt Lt Gent, who has flown Chinooks since 2008, added: “Our helicopters are rugged and versatile and we’re often assigned to high-priority aeromedical evacuation missions because with four medics and life-saving medical kit onboard we’re well-placed to offer patients immediate care.
“I’m flattered at being awarded, though it was a real team effort. My crew worked incredibly hard and this honour is reflective of their efforts, as well as mine.
“The nature of our work means that a lot goes unseen, but it’s a real privilege to be recognised in this way. That said, having the chance to save someone’s life is all the motivation I need in my role; it really doesn’t get any more rewarding than that.”
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