Flt Lt Christopher Gordon awarded for 'courageous' Afghan rescue
A RAF pilot has been awarded a medal for his "considerable courage" in the rescue of soldiers in Afghanistan.
Flt Lt Christopher Gordon, 29, of Manchester, has won the Distinguished Flying Cross for helping 30 troops escape heavy fire in Helmand.
His twin-rotored Chinook helicopter had only one engine in operation at the time of the rescue, last August.
He had to quickly assess if he could take off, before having to fly low and use field plough marks to navigate.
The rescue happened after 60 British and Afghan troops were dropped into an "insurgent safe haven" by two Chinook helicopters, a Ministry of Defence spokesman said.'Good chance'
When the two helicopters returned to pick the troops up, they came under heavy fire and Flt Lt Gordon's vehicle lost the use of one of its two rotor engines.
Knowing the Apache helicopters which were supplying them with air support had to return to Camp Bastion to refuel, Flt Lt Gordon said he had to make a quick calculation to work out if he could still take off with 30 soldiers on board.
"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.
- Chinooks are twin rotor support helicopters that are used by the RAF in a range of environments, from cold weather conditions to desert warfare
- They can carry up to 55 troops or 10 tonnes (11 tons) of freight
- A Chinook crew consists of either two pilots - or a pilot and a weapon systems officer - and two air loadmasters, who usually make calculations and plan cargo and passenger placement
Source: Royal Air Force
"From the numbers I had calculated we had a good chance that it could work but nothing was going to be certain."
The extra weight and damaged engine meant he was forced to fly for 3 miles (4.8km) at around 20 ft (6m) from the ground, rather than the usual 50 ft (15m), creating a dust cloud which obscured his view.
As a result, he used the ruts ploughed into fields as a guide, so as to remain on course and not lengthen the journey, as he said he was concerned the "good engine [would] overload or overcook".
"We have various limits, then there are the 'only use in an extraordinary circumstance' ones, which this was," he said.'Worst-case scenario'
He added that when the helicopter arrived back at Camp Bastion, the troops had to endure a "heavy landing" before they could alight, though he said they had no idea the helicopter was badly damaged.
"They didn't know I was on one engine but they knew we were in a tricky situation," he said.
"They were just extremely happy to get out of the situation because they didn't know if they would.
"Everything seemed to be stacked up against them - if we couldn't get them, and the Apache had to get back because of fuel, they were thinking worst-case scenario."
Speaking about his medal, the 29-year-old, who is based at RAF Odiham in Hampshire, 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," he said.