Our War: Rescue mission in a dust storm

Monday 20 August 2012, 10:30

Jonathan Singh Jonathan Singh

Tagged with:

My four tours of duty in Afghanistan provided some of the best and worst experiences of my life, often only minutes apart.

Despite the years of training and experience nothing can prepare you for the realities of modern warfare: the huge logistic support involved, the proximity to death or serious injury and, above all, the way extreme violence becomes mundane.

The environment of Afghanistan, both physical and human, was always a source of a strange mix of wonder and dread.

From a physical point of view the variation between extreme cold in the winter and extreme heat in the summer made flying in an unpressurised, un-air conditioned cockpit interesting.

Added to this was the helicopter pilot's nemesis: the Afghan dust.

Dust storms, sometimes lasting days, would make flying almost impossible as the visibility was reduced to a few hundred metres, akin to driving down the motorway in thick fog.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash Installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash Installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content

Jonathan Singh's daring helicopter mission

Everyone had an opportunity to say they weren't happy to go, in which case I would have had to convince them otherwise or scrub the mission.

No one voiced any concerns although I'm certain everyone harboured some doubt as to whether we were doing the right thing.

Strangely at the time I felt no such reservations. It was only later that I would be racked with self-doubt, questioning whether I had taken unnecessary risks and worse... whether I had enjoyed the danger a little too much.

I remember feeling hyper-alert but calm and clear headed right through the mission. I wasn't scared at all as I was purely focused on the task in hand.

For me that state of mind was normal flying in Afghanistan. The fear and emotional release would come months later while back in the UK.

As you see unfold in the programme, flying the mission was broken into a series of tasks: finding the troops in the dust, avoiding the enemy, landing, taking off again and finally returning and landing back at the airfield.

As soon as each stage was completed I focused on the next. When we landed back at Bastion we were elated, we thought we had saved a soldier's life.

I was overwhelmed by the collective skill and composure of my crew, the Apache crew and the medical team in the back who without hesitation had trusted their lives to our judgement.

Tragically both Captain Griffiths, who we rescued during the dust storm, and Kingsman Deady, who we'd flown back to Bastion 24 hours earlier, were to later die of their injuries in a British hospital.

We never knew any of the soldiers we picked up personally. I think it would have been even harder to be objective in analysing the risks of a mission if we had.

When informed that the two soldiers had passed away (I still did not know their names and wouldn't find out till this series was made) it was a devastating blow. But I had to put it to the back of my mind... sadly there were always more casualties that needed rescuing and I wanted to stay focused.

Looking back I feel a deep sadness that we weren't able to save their lives but I hope the families can take comfort in knowing that a lot of people, of all ranks and backgrounds, gave their utmost to try and save the lives of their loved ones.

I hope they can take some comfort that they were able to see their family member before he passed away.

Sadly the events of that day on the IRT reflects the war in Afghanistan in microcosm for me: A huge effort in the face of an incredibly hostile environment against an unseen, vicious enemy where success and failure hang in the balance.

Jonathan Singh is a former RAF pilot who appears in Our War. Jonathan has since left the RAF and is now a full-time student.

Our War is on Monday, 20 August at 9pm on BBC Three. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

Listen to an audio blog with Our War executive producer Colin Barr about the making of the programme.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Tagged with:


Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I was Jon's senior crewman during the sorties featured and want to say a couple of things;
    Jon talks about trust and this was paramount, it is no exaggeration to say I and everyone else trusted him with our lives.
    Jon is far too modest to blow his own trumpet so I will; excellent pilot, inspirational leader and all round top bloke.
    Finally I know I speak for everyone when I say that everything we did was done with the casualties in mind and the fact that they did not make it will stay with me forever.
    RIP Captain Andrew Griffiths and Kingsman Darren Deady.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    That was one of the most powerful things I've ever watched....

    Respect to you, your crew and your Force for going out there, day in and day out and giving hope to our injured in the darkest of hours....

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    I know the family of both soldiers and trust me your actions in getting them home and allowing them to say goodbye meant so much despite the tragic outcome. Flying through that sandstorm was heroic and they are so grateful that Andy was given that chance to survive. If you read this Fl Lt Singh - thank you and your crew so much for making that trip.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Jon (and indeed all the characters in this excellent film),
    Fantastic job, no doubt about it. Getting the job done when everything is stacked against you (all) is what makes the British servicemen so special. You should be very proud of what you did and feel no shame for enjoying doing it; military flying is all about the 'rush', after all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    As an ex-serviceman (veteran) i am so proud of the servicemen serving in Afghanistan.To see they stick together and helping wonded servicemen and carry on their work.You guys/gals are a credit to our country.Thank you.No matter what we are here for you and pray your safe return.........Nick Zaver Ceo (Help for veterans)


Comments 5 of 27


This entry is now closed for comments

Share this page

More Posts

Best Of Men: Acting in a Paralympic drama

Thursday 16 August 2012, 09:37

In With The Flynns: Q&A with writer Simon Nye

Wednesday 22 August 2012, 16:40

About this Blog

Get the views of cast, presenters, scriptwriters and crew from inside the shows. Read reviews and opinions and share yours on all things TV - your favourite episodes, live programmes, the schedule and everything else.

We ask that comments on the blog fall within the house rules.

Blog Updates

Stay updated with the latest posts from the blog.

Subscribe using:

What are feeds?