Top honour for brave Navy pilot

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Published: Friday 12th June 2015 by The News Editor

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A Royal Navy pilot who landed his stricken historic aircraft after it plunged to the ground following engine failure has received the highest peacetime honour for gallantry in the air.

Lieutenant Commander Chris Gotke, 45, was faced with the decision of either bailing out by parachute at low level or staying with the Hawker Sea Fury and trying to land when things when wrong during a display last July.

The former Sea Harrier pilot, who served in Iraq and Kosovo, stayed at the controls after pulling the plane out of a dive and managed to glide her back to a landing strip.

For his display of conspicuous courage and exemplary airmanship under extreme pressure, he was awarded the Air Force Cross by the Prince of Wales during an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

Lt Cmdr Gotke, commanding officer of the Royal Navy Historic Flight, said: “The Sea Fury is a beautifully harmonised aircraft, it is delightful to fly – it is absolutely delightful and beautiful.

“I was manoeuvring it around and I’m having the best day of my life, then it starts rattling so I’m thinking ‘That’s not quite right’.

“Then 15 seconds later I put the nose down, the (landing) gear goes down and all of a sudden it’s dropping at the ground and I can actually see on the ground my impact point – just at the edge of a wood, lovely green trees and that’s where I’m going to hit.

“It was very surreal, because it went from one extreme to the other from everything’s fine to ‘Oh my god, I’ve put the gear down, I can’t land with the gear down in a grass field’ – I’m going to have to jump out.

“So I was thinking ‘I’m going to have to jump out, jump out’ and I’m busy swearing in the cockpit.”

The pilot said he put the plane into something similar to the neutral gear of car to let it glide along after completely losing power and brought the landing gear back up.

The Sea Fury, which came into service soon after the Second World War, managed to make it back to the airfield at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall.

As the aircraft rolled along the runway, its wheels, which had not managed to deploy fully during landing, collapsed and the plane skidded to stop but the pilot was unharmed.

Kate Lampard, the former barrister who co-authored an independent ”lessons learned” report for the Department of Health into investigations about Jimmy Savile’s offending across NHS institutions, was made a CBE.

Savile raped or assaulted at least 63 patients, staff and visitors at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, and is said to have committed further acts of abuse at other NHS hospitals.

Ms Lampard’s report, which made a number of recommendations, stated: “Much of the story of Savile and his associations with NHS hospitals is unusual to the point of being scarcely credible.

“It concerns a famous, flamboyantly eccentric, narcissistic and manipulative television personality using his celebrity profile and his much-publicised volunteering and fundraising roles to gain access, influence and power in certain hospitals.

“He used the opportunities that that access, influence and power gave him to commit sexual abuses on a grand scale.”

Savile died a year before allegations that he had sexually abused children were broadcast in the ITV documentary Exposure: The Other Side Of Jimmy Savile. The documentary ultimately led to a joint review by the Metropolitan Police and NSPCC, which in turn triggered separate NHS investigations.

Ms Lampard said of working on her report: ” It was pretty arduous stuff so it’s always perhaps nice to feel that somebody recognises that one has been through the mill a little bit, and was saying thank you for what wasn’t actually always a very enjoyable task.

“It was very important that it was done, obviously, because clearly there are an awful lot of failings which allowed something like that to happen.”

She remained positive that her findings would make a difference in the future: ” I think there are signs the report is being taken very seriously – people are endeavouring to put in place the recommendations that I made.

“I think there are always risks from very determined sexual abusers. I can’t guarantee that something similar … I don’t think the same thing … wouldn’t happen again in the future – everybody’s got to be on their guard.”

Published: Friday 12th June 2015 by The News Editor

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