'Blind' pilot saved by wingman who talked him down
Dramatic rescue at RAF Leeming during a routine training flight in a Hawk jet
Published 01/02/2016 | 12:43
An RAF pilot who lost his sight in the middle of a training flight was talked down through a safe landing by a comrade who flew behind him, it has been disclosed.
The dramatic rescue happened last week at RAF Leeming during a routine training flight in a Hawk jet.
The unnamed pilot radioed to base after he was suddenly lost vision because of a suspected medical problem while flying solo above North Yorkshire in the BAE Systems single-engine training jet.
At one point the pilot’s vision was so bad that commander’s considered having him eject into the North Sea because there was little chance he could land safely, sources said.
But the prospect of him suffering ejection injuries, as well as losing the plane led them to dispatch another pilot, Flt Lt Paul Durban, to try to talk him down.
Flt Lt Durban, a 39-year-old father of two who flew Tornados in Iraq and Afghanistan before becoming an instructor at RAF Leeming, flew close behind the stricken pilot to talk him down.
A source said: “They think he had an infection in his eye and he just couldn’t see. The other pilot flew behind him and talked him down. They got him down safely and the plane is OK. Flt Lt Durban is fine too, though I think he was pretty exhausted.”
The RAF on Sunday confirmed the incident on January 28, but refused to comment on the condition of the stricken pilot. Sources said his vision was thought to have been affected by the sudden deterioration of an eye infection.
An RAF spokesman said: “During a routine training sortie on Thursday, one of our pilots temporarily suffered a partial loss of vision. To assist in the recovery of the aircraft to RAF Leeming, the pilot used the radio to request the assistance of a wingman and was promptly joined by another aircraft from the same squadron.
“The impaired pilot flew in formation back to RAF Leeming with the other aircraft where the pilot landed the aircraft uneventfully. Flying in formation, and conducting an approach to land as a formation, is a skill practised daily by RAF fast jet pilots.”
The RAF’s 100 Sqn use Hawk jets at RAF Leeming, near Richmond in North Yorkshire, to train forward air controllers and to act as enemy jets in practice missions. They are also flown by the RAF’s aerobatic team, the Red Arrows.