George drags pilot from plane
PUBLISHED: 16:49 29 November 2007 | UPDATED: 21:53 29 May 2010
HEROISM is not a regular occurrence in the world, but for one man from Duton Hill it came as a natural reaction to an incredible situation. Aircraft enthusiast and restorer George Francis received one of the top aviation awards for saving the life of a fe
HEROISM is not a regular occurrence in the world, but for one man from Duton Hill it came as a natural reaction to an incredible situation.
Aircraft enthusiast and restorer George Francis received one of the top aviation awards for saving the life of a fellow pilot and friend Alan Walker following a major crash at Duxford airfield in September 2006.
The Hugh Gordon-Burge Memorial Award was given to Mr Francis last Tuesday, November 20, in a glittering ceremony in London.
Lucky to be alive himself, Mr Francis has spoken for the first time about the crash, which led him to receive the award.
The aircraft Mr Francis and Mr Walker were in was an old Lockheed Canadair T-33, which Alan had helped to restore himself.
Heading for a Jersey air-show the plane climbed too slowly causing it to stall on take off, it then bounced on to the runway before cart-wheeling through trees and bursting into a huge fire ball in a farmer's field.
Mr Francis said: "I remember looking at the left wing and thinking this isn't right then the tip where the one of the fuel tanks is situated collided with the ground, after that it was just an orange glow as fire engulfed us, we literally fell out of the sky."
The aircraft was carrying 600 gallons of fuel for the trip, which ignited on impact. Smoke filled the cockpit blinding Mr Francis and his friend Alan.
"I couldn't breathe through the smoke and I was disorientated," said Mr Francis, who was still thinking very clearly. He added: "I didn't blow the canopy because I wasn't sure on the orientation of the cockpit."
To get out he used a canopy hammer, a small heavy metal knife, to stab the cockpit 53 times to make a hole for him to climb out.
He said: "The hammer is a lucky charm for me now, it was only given to me on the morning of the flight, without it I don't think I would have got out."
The story takes its heroic twist as Mr Francis goes on to describe what happened next. He said: "I looked back and was astonished, adrenaline was pumping through me and I couldn't feel any pain."
By this point Mr Walker was still trapped inside the aircraft screaming for help.
Mr Francis said: "I just acted on instinct; I crawled over and managed to trigger the emergency canopy release, it blew 50ft into the air and landed 20ft away from me."
He dragged the pilot out of the cockpit and away to a safe distance, saving his life. Amazingly, both men made a full recovery.
The award, which is reserved for only the finest acts of bravery, was presented to Mr Francis by Air Chief Marshal Sir Glen Torpy who is the RAF Chief of Air Staff.
Mr Francis said "The award has only been given out 17 times since 1974 so I was absolutely over the moon to be told I was getting it, I had to read the letter three or four times to take it in."
He received a standing ovation from dignitaries at the event and Sir Torpy told him that "he should be very proud of what he had done, a fitting tribute to a very brave man."
By Nick Thompson