UK: Navy helicopter pilot receives DFC from Queen
A Royal Navy helicopter pilot who twice braved ferocious enemy fire to save the lives of British troops wounded in Afghanistan received his Distinguished Flying Cross from HM The Queen at Buckingham Palace yesterday, 30 October 2008.
Lieutenant Nichol James Emslie Benzie, aged 34, was a member of the Joint Helicopter Force in Afghanistan in November last year. He was the captain of an RAF Chinook helicopter when he evacuated casualties on two successive days, as well as re-supplying ground forces with ammunition on the second occasion.
On receiving his award, Lt Benzie said: "I am absolutely delighted and honoured to receive the highest award specifically for flying duties. I feel I am accepting it on behalf of the three other crew members of my aircraft."
On 9 November 2007, a patrol through the Sangin Valley in Helmand Province came under fire seriously injuring two of the patrol. Lt Benzie's Chinook was launched to evacuate the casualties but was held off for an hour by heavy enemy machine gun and anti-aircraft fire.
However, as daylight was fading, time was running out for the rescue operation and Lt Benzie decided to take his aircraft in despite the ferocious fire. With close air support, he demonstrated exceptional skill by landing his aircraft in a small area between crops while avoiding enemy positions. The casualties were successfully extracted, despite the Chinook being engaged with small arms fire as it left the area.
The following day, Lt Benzie's Chinook was in action again to urgently re-supply ground forces with ammunition in the same area and to evacuate more casualties. The under-slung load meant that he had to approach the landing site at very low level and with reduced manoeuvrability, heightening the risk to his aircraft.
The ammunition was delivered but enemy fire forced the Chinook, engulfed by clouds of dust, to depart rapidly without embarking all the injured. Despite low light and the continuing enemy threat, Lt Benzie returned to carry out a textbook recovery of the remaining wounded.
Lt Benzie's citation states:
"In recovering seriously injured casualties on successive days in the most demanding environmental conditions and in the face of such intense enemy activity, Lt Benzie showed exceptional courage, inspirational leadership and flying ability of the highest order. His gallant actions undoubtedly saved lives and deserves recognition."
Lt Benzie joined the Royal Navy in 1997. He lives in Arundel, West Sussex, with his fiancée, Dr Amelia Bolgar. She and Lt Benzie's parents, Michael and Jiffy, attended Buckingham Palace with him. Also there was a fellow crew member in the Chinook at the time, Flight Lieutenant Al Sparkes RAF.
The DFC is awarded to all ranks of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army, and RAF in recognition of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy in the air.
It is the second time that Lt Benzie has received an award. He was Mentioned in Dispatches for his leading role as Operations Officer of the Chinook Squadron, part of the Joint Helicopter Force in Afghanistan, during a major air assault on a Taliban stronghold in 2006.
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