O Lord who dist call upon thy disciples to venture all to win all men to thee,
grant that we, the chosen members of The Special Air Service Regiment,
may by our works and ways dare all to win all, and in doing so render special service to
thee and our fellow-men in all the world,
through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
For the first time in 25 years a former SAS man tells of the Falklands tragedy that killed 20
By MARK NICOL
A former SAS member has told for the first time of the night the regiment suffered its heaviest loss of life – during the Falklands War 25 years ago.
Twenty members of the elite unit were killed when their Sea King helicopter lost power and plunged into the freezing South Atlantic after a freak collision with an albatross.
Mick Williams, who is still haunted by the horrific events of May 19, 1982, told how the helicopter dropped from a low altitude and then filled with water as its windows smashed on impact with the sea.
In the ensuing chaos, most of the passengers drowned but the survivors fought each other as they tried to reach a tiny pocket of air – and then escape through one of the helicopter’s hatches. It is that desperate scramble for life which has left Mick – just 21 at the time of the crash – riven with guilt that he survived while his colleagues, and friends, perished.
Mick, who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and is a virtual recluse, said: “We were due to cross-deck from HMS Hermes to HMS Intrepid. I remember how still the water was before we took off and how many of us there were on the Sea King.
“I sat down, with my back to a porthole, but my arms were so tight against my sides I couldn’t put my seatbelt on.
“The engine struggled with the additional weight – it seemed as likely to drill a hole in the ship as to take off. As we climbed, I became drowsy.
“I didn’t hear the bird get sucked into the engine. Instead, I woke when the helicopter hit the water. The Sea King had already tilted on its side and I was at the bottom of a heap of bodies. I had been thrown backwards and swallowed mouthfuls of water.
“It was strangely calm and surreal in this cocoon of blackness and muffled sound. Then everyone’s survival instinct kicked in. Men who had been SAS soldiers together for years fought each other, desperately trying to reach a tiny air pocket.
“Guys were standing on top of me, their boots digging into my chest. So I pulled them down, grappled with them, my best mates, guys I loved, we all wanted to live. If I had died maybe some of them would have lived.
“I think about little else. My life since the accident has been consumed by this dilemma of conscience.
“I don’t know how I pulled myself out of the Sea King. My next memory is when I bobbed up on to the surface. My fingers, arms and legs were numb. I couldn’t inflate my lifejacket. Then other people started appearing. Their cries for help echoed across the bay.
“We swam together and clung to each other. There was a group of about seven of us. We shouted out other people’s names but there was no reply.
“I remember this guy next to me saying he wanted to sleep. He and I knew if he went to sleep he would never wake up.”
Too numb to feel pain, Mick was unaware of his punctured lung and shattered ribs. Then the helicopter pilot swam over to him.
Mick, 56, who lives in Hereford where the SAS is based, said: “We screamed at the pilot to light his flare. He kept dropping it in the water because his fingers were so numb. Thank God it was on a piece of string. We cursed him again when he swam off. We didn’t know he had seen a life raft and he left us to swim towards it.
“The guy next to me was now floating face down in the water. Knowing he was dead, I held on to his body to keep myself upright. I wish I could erase that memory but I know I never will.”
After what seemed an eternity, a boat from HMS Brilliant arrived to haul Mick and the remaining survivors aboard.
Mick added: “The medics put me under a mountain of blankets and gave me morphine. I shouted people’s names, guys who had gone down with the helicopter. Then I began to feel this overwhelming sense of guilt that I had survived and my best friends Mick and Paul had not. I did not feel I deserved to live.
“We all fought each other underwater but by living I condemned others to death. That is the way I still look at it, even now, 25 years on.
“Of my little group of five mates from G Troop, I was the only one who survived.”
Mick was put on indefinite leave for six months immediately after the Falklands War. Flashbacks and nightmares were regular occurrences when he returned to operational duties.
He served in the SAS until 1988 and was diagnosed with PTSD two years later.
Mick, a married father of one who has spent periods of up to nine months in residential care, added: “PTSD is not the same as mental illness. It is a perfectly normal response to an abnormal, life-threatening incident.
“I have difficulty allowing people to get close to me because I always fear I will lose them.”
ROLL OF HONOUR:
A/CPL Raymond Ernest ARMSTRONG (RGJ)
A/SGT John Leslie ARTHY
A/WO1 Malcolm ATKINSON
A/CPL William John BEGLEY
A/SGT Paul Alan BUNKER
A/CPL Robert Allan BURNS
SGT Philip Preston CURRASS QGM
A/SGT Sidney Albert Ivor DAVIDSON
WOll Lawrence GALLAGHER
A/SGT William Clark HATTON QGM
FLT LT Garth Walter HAWKINS
A/SGT William John HUGHES
A/SGT Philip JONES
L/CPL Paul Neville LIGHTFOOT
Cpl Michael David LOVE DSM
CPL Douglas Frank McCORMACK
A/CPL Michael Vincent McHUGH
A/CPL John NEWTON
A/WOll Patrick O’CONNOR
CPL Stephen John SYKES
CPL Edward Thomas WALPOLE (RGJ)
Credited to MARK NICOL
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