Chopper rescue hero award

A PILOT from Suffolk has been awarded a prestigious medal for his role in a daring rescue mission in Afghanistan.

A PILOT from Suffolk has been awarded a prestigious medal for his role in a daring rescue mission in Afghanistan.

Warrant Officer Class 2 Carl Bird, from Ipswich, commanded one of two Apache helicopter crews who risked their lives to rescue an injured soldier - just 50 metres from the enemy.

One of the aircraft crew left the helicopter and came under small arms fire for five minutes as he tended to the wounded Royal Marine at Garmsir in the Helmand Province.

Apache helicopters cannot carry passengers but it is possible to transport aircrew strapped to the outside of the aircraft and the crew members took the unprecedented steps of carrying three Royal Marine volunteers and a Commando Royal Engineer in this way.

The volunteers endured an intense dust cloud as the aircraft landed inside the enemy stronghold but somehow managed to attach the injured soldier to the outside of the helicopter.

The soldier, LCpl Matthew Ford, was airlifted to safety but despite the crew's heroic efforts, he later died.

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WO2 Bird, 40, formerly of 656 Squadron Army Air Corps, based at Dishforth in Yorkshire, is now one of four crew members to receive the Master's Medal by the Guild of Air Pilots Air Navigators.

It is only the 14th time the medal, which recognises outstanding bravery, has been presented.

WO2 Bird, who is now based at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire and lives with his wife and nine-year-old son, said: “It was the most dangerous rescue I have been involved in.

“We were doing untried and untested procedures.”

The drama unfolded January 15 when a Royal Marines ground force came under heavy fire.

The soldiers withdrew from the scene and the casualties were evacuated by Chinook but at this point it was discovered that LCpl Ford was missing.

The Apaches went to the Taliban position to recover the casualty but the landing space was too small for both aircraft.

Both aircraft were immediately targeted by sporadic small arms fire.

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