A little off topic .... Life before FAWtography or ... how Ian ended up in the photography business / by Fran Weaver

Before FAWtography Ian had lead a full and varied career in the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force until an accident put a sudden end to it. Below, in his own words, is a narrative he wrote about it a few years ago.

"I have often been asked to go into more detail about my flying accident, subsequent rescue and rehabilitation, so here goes:  January 1996 found me instructing pilots and navigators to fly the Tornado F3 on 56(R) squadron at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire. 

  Tornado F3

Tornado F3

As an Instructor Navigator I regularly flew with student pilots at all stages of their Operational Conversion to the aircraft. January 10th was no different and I was number two in a three aircraft formation on an air-combat mission. The initial part of the sortie was to be a bounce, where one jet was the ‘enemy’ and tried to surprise and shoot down the other two as they transited to the exercise area.  After briefing, the bounce aircraft took off first and prepositioned. Myself and the student pilot were number 2 of the remaining pair, and after an uneventful taxi and take-off, proceeded as briefed at 15000 feet. Contact with the bounce aircraft was soon accomplished and the engagement commenced, however after an error of judgement my jet and the bounce aircraft collided wing to wing, almost head-on and with about 1000 mph closure between the two airframes. I was in the lower of the two aircraft shown below and we lost most of the right wing and a fair portion of the tail section. The aircraft immediately spun out of control, rolling at more than 1.5 full revolutions per second within 1 second of impact. Thankfully I was strapped into a Martin-Baker Mk 10a ejection seat and the pilot was able to initiate our escape sequence from the front cockpit. 

  We collided at about 1000 mph

We collided at about 1000 mph

0.4 of a second after the pilot pulled the ejection handle my seat initiated and I was pulled back into the seat as the canopy jettisoned. Shortly after the main gun fired and I accelerated upwards at about 25G during which time my spine was compressed such that my chin rested on my sternum, but the body can handle this. The rockets on the bottom of the seat fired as the seat cleared the aircraft, shooting me well clear of any danger. That should have been that – the seat was stabilised by drogue ‘chutes and then eventually these pulled out the main parachute and I drifted serenely through the next 10,000 feet to land in open fields. But it wasn’t that simple. Because the aircraft was spinning rapidly after the collision my head was thrown out to one side where it met with the 500 mph wind generated by the speed of the aircraft as we collided. The effect was catastrophic. The airflow got under the rim of my flying helmet and my head was ripped backwards. Thankfully a weak joint in the chin-strap parted and the helmet was pulled clear, but the damage was already done. 

Meanwhile, down on the ground a young boy was kicking a football round the yard, waiting for the school bus. It was still early morning and there was still a bit of low cloud and mist about on an otherwise clear day. He lived in Digby Fen, not far from RAF Coningsby; a large, flat area of Lincolnshire basically in the middle of nowhere. Looking up for a moment he saw one of the aircraft crash into the ground and ran indoors to tell his mum and dad. John, still in his pyjamas, put down his breakfast and followed the excited boy into the garden. He looked around and saw a slight smudge on the horizon. Scanning about he spotted another, similar smoke trail and explained to his son that it was unlikely that two aircraft had crashed at the same time and so, dismissing his son’s adamant cries, turned to return to his cornflakes. Glancing up to the sky he was surprised to see two parachutes drifting high down wind over his house. Running indoors he quickly threw on some clothes, grabbed his mobile phone and car keys, told his wife to ring the emergency services and shot outside to his 4×4. 

  Martin-Baker Mk 10a Ejection Seat – one careful owner!

Martin-Baker Mk 10a Ejection Seat – one careful owner!

Running back outside he was in time to see a second pair of parachutes drifting low over the house. Jumping into his car John opened the sun-roof and followed the two chutes across open farmland as far as he could, but was eventually forced to disembark to cross a dyke on foot. A short jog later brought him to the first casualty; my pilot, who was just regaining consciousness and climbing to his feet. Happy that he was in reasonably good shape he continued across the field to find me face down in a mole-hill. Carefully clearing my air-way and supporting my neck he rolled me halfway across his knees so that my laboured attempts at breathing were successful. My head was bleeding profusely, I had one open bloodshot eye and was deeply unconscious. Little did he know the full extent of my injuries. My neck was broken at C1/C2 to such an extent that my head was held on purely by skin and the spinal cord. All bones and tendons had parted. My skull was fractured with ensuing frontal lobe brain damage. My scalp was lacerated, my left lung collapsed, I had six broken ribs on the right side and my left arm was extended such that all the nerves controlling movement were ruptured. John did no more than keep me breathing and alive thus minimising the chance of further injury. Eventually the police arrived, followed shortly by an RAF Sea King helicopter whose paramedic crewmen secured my vital signs and transported me to hospital. John was left to trudge back across the fields to his house, not knowing if he had done things right or wrong. He saved my life; John is a hero. 

  John and I where he found me.

John and I where he found me.

I regained consciousness some 10 – 12 days later. My first thought was that I’d died, though I had no recollection of the accident or the events leading up to it. I was paralysed from the neck down, I had a 5Kg weight hanging from my head and had a machine breathing for me. Moments later the pain hit me and I prayed that I wasn’t dead as I couldn’t possibly endure that level of pain for minutes, let alone eternity. It was some 24 hours before I found out that I was in QMC hospital in Nottingham and indeed, why I was there. My only form of communication was blinking my eyes but eventually the story was relayed to me. Thankfully the two stricken jets had fallen into open farmland and no-one on the ground was injured or killed. The other three crew-members also ejected and walked away with more minor injuries. They all returned to flying fast jets. I was to remain in hospital for a year (on and off), followed by a year on sick leave before being medically retired from the RAF.

  On the left – after 5 days of traction – the right – after surgery

On the left – after 5 days of traction – the right – after surgery

As can be seen from the picture of my neck above, surgeons operated and basically screwed my head back onto the top of my neck with a small part of my pelvic bone ‘thrown in’ to help long term binding. Thankfully I have a very ’slack’ spinal column and the cord, although damaged, was unbroken. An inter-cranial pressure probe had been planted into my skull to measure the swelling of the brain and all other injuries were left to mend. On the first night of my stay at QMC my family was given the grim prognosis; I would either die within 24 hours from the injuries I’d sustained or I would be paralyzed from the neck down and on a ventilator for the rest of my life. As it was, from the time that I was aware, I was getting better. Slowly over the next few weeks movement started to return to my legs and right arm. I was however still intubated thanks to the massive chest trauma I’d endured and was kept on the Intensive Therapy Unit (ITU) accordingly. Every couple of hours a physiotherapist would arrive, push a tube up my nose and into my chest, then proceed to pump out the liquid collecting in my lungs, by compressing my chest and trying to induce a cough. Unfortunately I had lost my gag and cough reflex so this proved quite difficult. Sadly for me they had not discovered the broken ribs at this time so the whole procedure proved to be extremely painful, even causing me to cry whenever I saw a physiotherapist moving about the ward. However, as I said; I was getting better. The pain I was in however, couldn’t really be addressed at that time, and because I could not speak or move I had no way of relaying the agony I was in to those that mattered. I was still on massive doses of morphine which did absolutely nothing for the neurological pain present over the whole of my body. Every part of me was hyper-sensitive and my family, meaning well, would often massage my limbs or stroke parts of my body. This caused un-believable pain, but it was nothing compared to the blinding agony in my left shoulder and arm which caused me, once I regained my speech, to regularly ask to be allowed back into a coma or at the very least to have the left arm amputated. Thankfully that wasn’t allowed to happen.

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Soon the time came to have my breathing tube removed. I was fully conscious at this time and as the tube was pulled out I soon realised that I couldn’t breathe without it. As I struggled to draw air into my lungs my vision started to grey and panic set in. I quickly lost my peripheral vision and as the light reduced to pin-pricks I knew I was dying, but oddly enough I was able to relax at that moment and everything went black. When I came round the tube was back in and I was surrounded by anxious faces. It was a while before they tried again, but thankfully this time they were successful. Now I could speak and my pain was addressed and consequently reduced to bearable levels by a huge cocktail of drugs. I continued to improve but was kept in ITU on large doses of morphine as well as the new drugs.

It was about now that I started to hear some of the details about the horrendous accident I’d been involved in. To this day I don’t remember it, nor would I want to, but much of the detail has been filled in by 2nd hand accounts, photographs and media coverage. All four of us ejected safely; I was the only one seriously injured, and thankfully the jets fell into open farmland with nobody on the ground being injured bar a few cabbages. I mentioned media coverage - we made all the national papers and of course it was covered extensively by all the local papers and TV stations. Some of the many stories are shown below.

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My recovery continued in ITU and one of the more light-hearted problems I had was induced by the combination of a serious head injury and massive doses of morphine. My hallucinations were so real to me that even to this day I can’t sort out the fact from the fiction. Some were fairly obvious though. Here is one such dream. Although time didn’t have much meaning I was aware of night-time on the ward; the lights were dimmed and there were no night visitors once it was established that I would survive. Each night I was loaded onto a trolley and pushed across the fields to the banks of the river Trent where I was left amongst the homeless, the rats and an assortment of other dark characters that my mind conjured up. Each morning the porters would arrive to see if I’d survived the night, and finding me still alive would wheel me back to ITU for another day’s treatment. This was despite the fact that every couple of hours or so a nurse would press a bic biro hard against my finger-nail beds to ensure I still reacted to pain. As if I needed any more! Other occasions would find me white-water rafting on a hospital bed and tumbling over waterfalls only to find myself suspended from the tail of a giant oxen that had been slaughtered and hung down the falls, leaving a trail of blood mixing with the cascading water to glorious effect.

These ‘dreams’ were easy to dispel once I’d got my marbles back, but one in particular stays with me and I’m still convinced it really happened. I was still on the breathing machine at the time and my right leg had just started to show some movement. My wife was walking around the bed and I kicked out and caught her in the mid-riff, winding her quite badly. A male nurse had seen it happen and later, when I was alone, he returned to my side and either turned off the breathing apparatus or blocked it somehow. As I lay there terrified, with my life ebbing away, he told me that if he saw me do anything like it again he would repeat his actions and walk away. He turned me ‘back on’ and left, but I was very well behaved from that moment on!

Finally on the wacky stories front, my brother Paul always managed to bring out the best of them, or was at least present when some of the better episodes manifested themselves. He did give me a fright earlier on in my consciousness though. He was quite close to my bed and we were alone. Without saying a word he bent over and kissed me on the forehead. This was my big, motorcycle cop brother and if you knew him you would think it was a little out of character. Well, I was convinced that I was on my way out and that he was saying his goodbyes. But it was Paul who brought in a trap for catching the ants that I had been raving about in my sleep. At the time I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the trap had to be capable of catching ants and elephants simultaneously.

  Paul in between kissing me and making ant traps.

Paul in between kissing me and making ant traps.

Another time Paul was witness to one of my stints as Santa’s Little Helper. I was being ‘fed’ painkillers in the form of suppositories and in my confused state the ‘reality’ of it was that Santa’s elves were pushing lemon Bon-bons up my bum whilst telling me what present was required. I would then deposit a bag of marbles, a Lego set or what ever the kids had written in their letters to Mr Claus. The following morning Paul promptly arrived with a packet of Bon-bons and requested a colour television for his son Jason and a bicycle for Joshua!

After 2-3 weeks I was moved out of ITU into a High Dependency ward. Here things got funnier or worse, depending on your outlook. Up until this time I was being fed via a tube up my nose. Different coloured concoctions that looked like a McDonalds milkshakes were pumped directly into my stomach. Why they were different colours I have no idea as there was no way I could taste them. At regular intervals the ‘goo’ was pumped back out of my stomach and inspected to see if I was digesting any of it. I suppose there was the small matter of my weight loss to worry about; I’d lost a quarter of my body weight in two weeks. I guess you could call it a ‘crash’ diet. There was one advantage though. I didn’t need to take a c**p as nothing was getting through. Still, I could fart. Every day without fail I would growl at a nurse to bring me a bed-pan and they’d sit me on it and I’d let rip. When my brain was damaged a part that controls hysteria was moderately affected and I sometimes had trouble controlling my laughter. Farting in a bed-pan never failed to amuse me. One particular day I’d played this trick about 4 times, and the nurses had basically had just about enough when I called for the bed-pan a fifth time. I was told to behave as I’d “just fart in it and giggle”. Of course this was the one time that I really did explode, venting a month’s worth of ’stuff that my intestines couldn’t process’. Added to that, one of the squadron pilots chose that moment to visit and upon seeing me with pipes and tubes out of every orifice, arm, leg and more besides, and added to the whiff of what I’d produced, collapsed into a heap on the ward floor. I was laughing for hours! (You’ll be pleased to learn that I don’t have a photo of the event!!!)

Imagine my joy then, when the tubes were removed and I was to be let loose on my first real meal for weeks. Conversely, imagine my disappointment when a white plate arrived adorned with three piles of unidentifiable liquidised mush. I was to learn over the next fortnight that no matter what I ordered from the menu, I received one brown pile, one orange and one white.

  QMC Nottingham

QMC Nottingham

They would soon wipe the smile off my face. It was time to remove my catheter, which was a relief as I was fed up with having my willy stretched every time I had a walking lesson and forgot to fit the bag to the walking frame! The tube was removed and I was encouraged to drink copious amounts of squash, which I did. Trouble is, I couldn’t go and after 36 hours you could clearly see my bladder through the flesh of my abdomen. This resulted in an emergency catheterisation with no anaesthetic whereupon I quickly filled 2-3 bags with the nurses swapping them as fast as I could fill them. Worse was yet to come as I was told that it would be permanent if I didn’t successfully wee next time. I still have deeply disturbing recollections of my sister and sister-in-law dribbling jugs of warm water over my poor shrivelled man-hood into a sink, whilst singing to it, in the hope it would trigger a response. Thankfully it did, but it was a close run thing. (Again, no picture )

Soon it was time for another move – this time to Pilgrim Hospital in Boston whilst I waited for a placement into RAF Headley Court. Okay, I admit that I’ve had some luck so far; some good some bad, but a massive stroke of good fortune occurred when I arrived at Pilgrim. I got there before my notes! Whoopee do I hear you cry, but it meant they had to ask me things … like “are you eating normal food?” Now imagine my joy as they brought me a full roast chicken dinner which I wolfed down. Or rather, attempted to wolf down until I discovered that they really had been right when they said my swallow reflex was almost non-existent, as was my cough reflex. It would have been a shame to choke to death at that stage, and I gave it my best shot, but I slowly managed to teach myself to shut off the route to my lungs and let the food slide down, and I remained on solid food from that day. Another question: “Can you walk unaided?” Well of course I could and there was no stopping me now. I could be seen hour after hour staggering around the ward complex with my neck in a brace, no balance to speak of and my left arm in a sling, but I learnt to walk quick enough and it meant a weekend pass for a home visit.

There were only two things I wanted to do when I got home … well three actually, but I was only capable of the first two. Friday night was ‘Happy Hour’ in the Officer’s Mess, and I was dressed in my flying ‘ovvies’ and presented at the bar. It was the first time in my life that I received a spontaneous round of applause simply walking into a room.

  Time for a drink (soft drinks only I’m sad to say)

Time for a drink (soft drinks only I’m sad to say)

It was the most amazing time. I didn’t last long and of course there was no alcohol involved (nor indeed was there for the next 6 … yes SIX years) but for the hours I stood amongst my friends and comrades there wasn’t a minute passed by without someone wanting to shake my hand, even people I didn’t know from Adam. I’m not a very tactile person when it comes to other men, but two out of three of my fellow ejectees were there and it was kind of special when they tried to hug the life out of me. I didn’t have the heart to tell them it hurt like hell.

Saturday was put aside for a drive out to visit my rescuer. I can’t remember who opened the door to hear the immortal words “Hi, I’m Ian Weaver and this is the second time I’ve dropped in on you unannounced.” John is the sort of man that fills a room as soon as he walks into it (I don’t mean that literally John ….mind you ….), the sort of man that you instantly like and want to be friends with, and I’m pleased to say that we are firm friends to this day. At well over six foot and built like a brick s**t house he is certainly a man to have on your side. I can’t say enough about him – he saved my life, He’s my hero. Mind you there is a conspiracy theory afoot that suggests I was just climbing to my feet in that field when he came bounding up, tripped and fell on me and then tried to yank me back up by my left arm. That could explain a lot of the injuries that as yet still remain a mystery!

  My Hero, John

My Hero, John

I returned to hospital completely exhausted and they continued with my care. Apart from some physio and one ‘dunk’ in the hydro pool I was pretty much laying about getting my strength back, but soon enough my place came up at the rehabilitation centre at RAF Headley Court. Everything was about to change. First however there was the small matter of an MRI scan at QMC. I had some fun when I arrived at reception. I was taken from the ambulance prostrate on one of those wheelie stretchers and parked in reception whilst the porters checked the times, etc. I looked a state; my head was wrenched up in the biggest neck brace you’ve ever seen, my left arm was in a sling that bound the limb to my torso with straps around the back. I had a sideways Mohican haircut where the back section of hair had been removed for the scalp lacerations and neck surgery, and the front removed for the brain surgery (brain surgery sounds dramatic but it was only where they inserted the probe to monitor the swelling). Finally I had a couple of holes in my forehead from the brace they’d bolted to the skull to hang the traction weights from. All that, plus the gaunt, haunted look on my face meant that I was a state. Anyway, I soon got bored waiting in reception with people staring at me as they came and went, so I started to misbehave. My bare feet were protruding from the blanket covering me and I started to twitch my foot. “Did you see that?” I proclaimed loudly. “I can move my foot!” People stared more and my wife cringed. “There … there it goes again.” Now I’m drawing quite a crowd. “Do you know what, I think I could walk.” By now people were openly staring agog as I pushed myself to my feet and took a few staggering steps. Unfortunately at this point my damaged ‘giggle trigger’ controlling hysteria let me down and I collapsed back onto the stretcher in fits. I just hope I didn’t offend anyone! Anyway, back to the MRI. I’d had one before, but at the time I was blissfully unconscious. I started to get a little apprehensive when they asked me if I was claustrophobic. Well I wasn’t until that day. Next they gave me a detailed description of the panic button; when and how I was to use it, and they made it clear that I was to hold onto it at all times. Stress levels increasing by now. Next it was ear defenders. Gulp. They made sure that every bit of metal in my possession was taken away and asked if I had any internal metal works. “Just these huge bolts holding my head on,” I replied. They assured me it was Ok as these were made of titanium and shouldn’t be affected by the huge magnetic field I would be subjected to. “What about the little steel grid around the bone graft,” I croaked as they laid me down on a narrow bed and fed me into this tube. I never did hear the answer to that one! Now those of you who know me will know that I’m not a particularly big bloke and by this time I only weighted about 9 Stone, but even my slight form could feel the sides on my shoulders and the top of the thing was almost touching my nose. (I don’t want to hear any ‘nose’ comments, thank you). Considering my earlier trepidations I was starting to think it wasn’t actually too bad; I was going to be able to handle it. Then they started the machine. The noise was overpowering and felt like it was rattling the teeth in my skull. Those reading this that have experienced an MRI will know what I mean, though they are a little quieter these days (I had another a couple of years ago). I don’t know what it was about the noise, but it seemed to increase my claustrophobia ten fold. I’ve never been so scared in my life … well apart from when my brother kissed me (see earlier). I was in the infernal machine from hell for just under an hour and to be honest was a gibbering wreck when I was removed and put back onto my stretcher. No more antics on the way out!

 MRIs

MRIs

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And so … off to Headley Court. I was transported in an ambulance with two nurses but even a simple transfer had it’s difficulties. I point blank refused to pee in the grey cardboard bottle they offered when the need arose. What a sight we made as we pulled into a petrol station on the A1, me still looking pretty much as described above, and with two nurses supporting me as we struggled across the forecourt to the public toilet. Was I a difficult patient??

Arriving at the rehabilitation centre I was admitted to the head injury ward where I would remain for a couple of months. To be honest I felt a bit of a fraud because there were many cases in there with much worse injuries than me. And so begun a two week assessment period where I was subjected to every kind of test, both physical and mental, you can imagine. I was bent this way and that, conducted maths tests, balance tests, logic & IQ tests, endurance tests, psychological tests and even had the amount of muscle wastage of my tongue measured by the gorgeous speech therapist. Therapy started in earnest and I was set weekly goals with carrots dangling if I met them. Such treats as weekend passes or eating in the Officer’s Mess if I could prove that I wouldn’t throw bread rolls about the place. I didn’t really help myself, when at meal times I used to wind up a young soldier that had similar brain damage to me but to a much greater degree. If I did something that amused him he would start laughing, which in turn would set me off. Many the meal time that saw us both out of control hooting like monkeys. Another brain damaged guy who liked to be the centre of attention, didn’t really appreciate this much and would wet himself to regain the nurses awareness. Yes, I enjoyed meal times.

  RAF Headley Court

RAF Headley Court

But of course it wasn’t all just fun. RAF Headley Court is a fantastic facility and so valuable in the rehabilitation of service personnel, even more so these days. Despite the mealtime antics mentioned above, I took my rehab very seriously, taking full advantage of all the equipment and experts that were on hand. I gradually built my strength up, my voice & balance improved and soon I felt ready to take on the world…. well a trip home anyway. Armed with a train ticket and having given a promise that I would take a taxi across London (my fingers were crossed behind my back) off I went. I was still wearing the neck brace and my left arm was paralysed and strapped to my body but it didn’t stop me wavering at the top of the escalator at King’s Cross underground station, one arm in a sling and the other holding a weekend bag, gingerly trying to maintain my balance as I stepped onto that damned moving staircase. One thing that amazed me though, was that not a single person, and this is during the Friday rush hour, not a single one offered to help me. No-one offered me their seat on the underground or helped to stow my bag on the overhead rack on the mainline train. I was amazed and it has certainly made me more considerate to the less fortunate as I go about my daily life these days. Having said that, even before my own experience I’m sure I would have helped somebody in as much need as I obviously was.

Eventually my time at Headley Court came to an end and I was sent home on sick leave. I have to say the RAF were brilliant. I visited the Central Medical Board in London and they considered what to do with me. After much deliberation, during which the choice of me re-mustering into a ground post was discussed and dismissed, they medically ranked me at A5G5Z4 (which I think is about one above a coma) and sent me home to get well enough to discharge. They kept me on full pay, including full flying pay, and after a few more visits gave me a discharge date in November 1997. In the meantime 56 Sqn found me a position undertaking light duties in the simulator, from where I could visit the station physiotherapist 3-4 times a week. (More on that later.) As my strength and speech improved I was given more work, and some comedian even had me teaching the escape system. I think the idea was that someone that had used it could give first hand accounts. Trouble is I couldn’t even remember going into work that day let alone “being launched out of the back cockpit on the furniture ride from hell!” as Harry described it in the comments below.

  Just one of the many courses I saw through the Ground School

Just one of the many courses I saw through the Ground School

Getting to and from work wasn’t without it’s problems; the obvious solution was a bicycle! Again I must have made an amusing sight. My left arm was still paralyzed and I couldn’t turn my head to look over my shoulder. I basically rested my left hand on the handlebar and used the ‘force’. Indicating turns was pretty much out of the question and turning right was always a bit dodgy! Luckily my hearing was still pretty good and I used to wait until the traffic noise behind me was at a minimum, then flap my arm up and straight back down onto the handlebars before I lost control. I must have looked a bit like the old indicators in a Morris Minor. I was itching to get behind the controls of a car though. About the time my left arm started to recover we bought a new car, and I just had to have a go. Finding a quiet road near Woodhall Spa I nervously got behind the controls. Resting my left hand on the wheel I found I could transfer it between the gearstick and back to the wheel with my left knee. My arm could push but not pull at this point in time, but I found I could drive perfectly adequately using just 1st, 3rd and 5th gears. I needed help selecting reverse. The next car was an automatic!

So, my left arm. The Brachial Plexus, a major nerve junction in the shoulder had been fairly well beaten up, probably by some sort of extension injury. (Though I will say that the arm restraints on the ejection seat, designed to stop the arms flapping about in the severe winds during the ejection sequence, reportedly worked correctly.)

  Surgery to fix shoulder

Surgery to fix shoulder

Most experts that had examined it were of the opinion that all the movement nerves had separated and that a nerve transplant would be required. Basically a ’spare?’ nerve would be removed from my leg and transplanted into my arm. I didn’t even know they could do that. In the meantime all the muscles had shrivelled to just about nothing and started to calcify (started to go rock hard like bone). Ross, my physio was of a different opinion and spent hours upon hours exercising the arm and zapping it with all sorts of machines. It seemed like a useless exercise but she persevered, even though I was sent back to hospital to have it fixed. Going in they found that the nerve sheaths were intact and the nerves would grow back to some of the muscles in time. Ross and I worked on it for literally years and she taught me to use the muscles that recovered to give me what is just about full movement today. I still don’t have the deltoids operating, but my skinny little shoulder does ok even to the extent to playing a half decent game of golf.

So where am I at today. After I left the RAF I secured the job in the simulator as a civilian and continued until it closed in 2009 (? I think!). I applied to the Typhoon simulator but didn’t get it and didn’t pursue any other employment. I got divorced and brought up the kids before re-marrying and inheriting three more, so I became a full time house husband. More recently Fran and I have started FAWtography; a studio based portrait photography business.

Physically I’m in pretty good shape. I still have a lot of pain in my left arm, but it’s neurological and unaffected by painkillers, so just something to live with. My neck and back are no worse, if not better, than a lot of people my age with just some lower back issues once or twice a year. The worst problem is a severe burning sensation in my feet and legs, backs of my hands and sometimes around my kidneys. Again this is neurological (from the damage to the spinal cord I think) and is just something to live with. Another manifestation of this is a reversal of hot and cold sensations – ie cold water burns and hot water feels pretty neutral. It makes swimming bloody painful and meant that when I first went home the kids had to check the bathwater for me rather than the other way around. I can still get hysterical over little things occasionally but that has continued to improve over the years and is pretty much controllable. Sombre situations seem to set it off and I did have to leave one funeral in the middle, but that’s a different story best told over a few beers.

 Mentally? Well again in pretty good shape. Somewhere I have a letter stating that I am sane! I did have to see more than my fair share of psychologists and psychiatrists, and some more amusing stories spring to mind, but I’ll leave those for another day. I do have a different outlook on life though. As you go through life lots of bad things happen, but it’s always to somebody else. If we didn’t think that then there would be a lot of paranoid people about. But when it does happen to you then you start thinking that all the other bad things might be on your doorstep too. I find that now I’m always thinking the bad things might happen, so go out of my way to ensure they don’t. It’s certainly made me a better driver, especially now that I can use both hands.

  Looks pretty straight to me

Looks pretty straight to me

Finally I’ll just say thanks to a few people. Firstly to my family. Although I suffered the physical trauma, it was them that had the shock of being told what had happened and sat for hours in the hospital not knowing whether I’d live or die. Them that had to watch their son, father, brother, husband, nephew or uncle (did I miss any?) endure pain that reduced him to begging to be put out of his misery. Them that waited for me to wake up not knowing if I recognise them or if I’d have any mental function at all. Them that agonised over whether I’d ever walk or talk again. I had the easy bit and ’slept’ all the way through that episode Whenever I woke up there was always one of them there watching over me – they’ll never know how important that was. Thank you.

To my friends and colleagues, who again shared those agonies and have supported me through thick and thin ever since. To the fellow crew members involved; Ricko for that last second bunt, Elvis the pulling/roll and Skiddy for not punching out too soon and committing us to a fiery death. Thank you.

To the paramedics, doctors, nurses and all the support staff that gave me the best care imaginable. Don’t ever bad-mouth the NHS to me. Thank you.

To Martin-Baker who made the ejection seat. Need I say more. Thank you.

To the Royal Air Force for the support they gave to me and my family at the time of the accident and for the period of recovery. Thank you.

Finally to John and his family. Without them, especially john, I would not be here today. John, when you read this you’ll see that I can’t find adequate words to praise you, but you know how I feel. Thank you."