Royal Navy Sea King Crew Battle with Taliban
In the two years that the Royal Navy Sea Kings have been flying over Afghanistan the crews have taken their helicopters into treacherous environments and have often encountered stiff resistance from insurgents.
In January 2009, Lieutenant Commander Gavin Simmonite and his crew were tasked to fly their Sea King with an underslung load of equipment for ground forces.
As Lt Cdr Simmonite was approaching the drop zone his Sea King was hit by sustained and accurate Taliban fire. Bullets pierced the fuselage and ricocheted in the cabin.
In the ensuing mêlée, Door Gunner Naval Airman Thomas Saunders returned fire and pinned down the Taliban attackers.
His quick reactions provided the vital seconds of respite needed for him and his fellow crew members to escape.
Likewise, Lt Cdr Simmonite's airmanship and handling skills enabled him to get the aircraft out of the danger zone without loss of life.
His aircraft was so severely damaged by enemy fire that under normal circumstances it should have been landed immediately.
Whilst this would normally have been the end of the incident, when the damaged aircraft was inspected it was noted that the control cable for the tail rotor had been hit by a bullet, slicing all but one of the strands.
Once again, the aircrew were extremely fortunate as the cable was close to breaking, which would have had a catastrophic effect.
Lt Cdr Simmonite was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his exceptional airmanship and handling skills that enabled him to nurse the aircraft back to a safe location and in doing so saved the aircraft and his crew.
Naval Airman Saunders also received an award from the Commander Joint Helicopter Command.
When informed of his award Lt Cdr Simmonite said: "Flying in Afghanistan is an extremely challenging experience. As a naval force we would normally be flying at sea level from the decks of large ships.
"In Afghanistan it is a totally different environment; we have had to adapt to the high altitude, excessive heat and a desert sand that is as fine as talcum powder that permeates throughout the aircraft.
"The incident with the Taliban was very challenging, but I must mention the other members of my crew whose professionalism and skill contributed greatly to the safe and successful outcome of this event."
On returning to the UK, Naval Airman Saunders, who volunteered to become an Air Door Gunner, also praised the skills and courage of the aircrew, adding: "The recent fitment of an additional gun to the port side of the aircraft was extremely fortuitous as we were extremely vulnerable to attack.
"The incident seemed to be over in minutes and my reactions to the attack were down to the excellent training provided by the squadron."
After two years of successful service in Afghanistan the Sea Kings and their crews are proving to be a valuable asset to British forces in the country and look set to be deployed on many more vital sorties before they return home.
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