Top RAF Honour For Hero Pilot
A hero helicopter pilot who flew a Chinook one-handed just 50 feet above the ground after his co-pilot was shot, rescuing 30 troops who had been attacked by the Taliban, has received one of the RAF's top accolades for bravery.
Flight Lieutenant Dan Cullen flew the huge twin-rotor chopper with one hand while keeping his unconscious colleague, who had gone into shock, sitting upright and off his own controls to avoid a nosedive and crash following the incident in Afghanistan in April last year.
His helicopter was one of two sent to pick up soldiers who had been clearing a Taliban bomb factory but came under attack, with Flt Lt Cullen narrowly avoiding being shot himself when a bullet missed his calf by a few centimetres.
The 31-year-old, of 18(B) Squadron based at RAF Odiham in Hampshire, refused to take off before all the troops were on board, and for his bravery and composure received the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) from the Queen in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace today.
The citation for his DFC says that he showed inspirational composure under fire and his personal courage, strong leadership, exceptional flying skills and rapid intervention were directly responsible for the safe recovery of the troops and his aircraft.
He described meeting the Queen as bewildering and humbling, before dedicating his medal to the crew of the helicopter and those of other Chinook involved in the mission.
''Flying one-handed is not something we are trained for,'' he said.
''But the crew were there to help.
''It was just instinct really, trying to make the best of a bad situation.
''The Chinook is a powerful but forgiving aircraft, so it was helping me as well.''
Flt Lt Cullen, originally from Winslow in Buckinghamshire, told how he had had to use his left hand to keep his fellow pilot, who is recovering from his wounds, upright.
He then had to grab for the stick controlling altitude in a bid to gain height as they left the scene at low level, before reaching back to stop him from falling forward once more and sending them hurtling towards the ground.