News story

RAF pilot honoured for saving colleagues after shot to the face

Flt Lt Fortune was nominated for the award after showing courage under fire and great skill in handling a badly damaged Chinook helicopter during…

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Flt Lt Fortune was nominated for the award after showing courage under fire and great skill in handling a badly damaged Chinook helicopter during an emergency rescue mission in Helmand province earlier this year - he even continued to evacuate the injured after he himself was shot in the face by an insurgent’s bullet.

He was in charge of the UK helicopter force’s Immediate Response Team which had been called out to evacuate six casualties with gunshot wounds. Two of these were critical and their condition was worsening, including that of the ground controller who would normally co-ordinate the rescue from the ground.

While under enemy fire Flt Lt Fortune manoeuvred his aircraft to an emergency landing site and held his position until the casualties were safely on board.

On departure, the level of enemy fire increased and one round hit the front of Flt Lt Fortune’s helmet, shattering his visor and causing deep lacerations to his face.

Despite his injuries and the impairment to his vision, his award citation records that he showed outstanding courage and skill to keep control of the aircraft and take evasive action.

The aircraft was hit by small arms fire many times, resulting in a series of system failures, including a disabled flight stabilisation system, making it much harder to control. In addition, there was a Discovery Channel film crew on board filming a documentary, who recorded the event:

I said: ‘Chaps, I think I’ve been shot but I’m OK’,” Flt Lt Fortune recalled.

All my co-pilot could see was the main wound on my left-hand side and this pool of blood.

We talked through various plans of action, but our main priority, as always, was to try to get the casualties back.

Despite these difficult circumstances Flt Lt Fortune remained calm and kept the aircraft stable, allowing the medical team to work on the casualties. Flt Lt Fortune even had the presence of mind to land his aircraft at the edge of the landing site in Camp Bastion so as not to disrupt other operations. The mission ended well with all the casualties surviving and no other injuries.

On hearing the news of his award Flt Lt Fortune said:

I feel truly honoured to have been awarded a DFC and am filled with a sense of immense pride. I am humbled by the thought that I join a remarkable band of men and women in the annals of history who, through exceptional feats in the air, have inspired me since I was a boy.

However, similar deeds occur unnoticed on an almost daily basis in Afghanistan and it is my privilege to serve and operate with fellow military aircrew and ground troops to whom this award is also a tribute.

Flt Lt Fortune will receive his award in an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace in the autumn.

Published 27 September 2010