JJ Chalmers: Meeting the pilot who flew me home injured from Afghanistan

BBC presenter JJ Chalmers has said he “burst into tears” when he realised the pilot flying him to the Tokyo Paralympics was the same man who flew him home injured from Afghanistan.

Chalmers was injured in a bomb blast while serving as a Royal Marine Commando in Afghanistan in 2011.

While on the plane to Tokyo to cover the Paralympics for BBC Radio 5 Live, an air stewardess pulled him aside and said the pilot had recognised his name.

Chalmers said he felt “overwhelmed”.

Chalmers – whose full name is Lance Corporal John James Chalmers – was flown home in an induced coma and had more than 30 operations after treading on an explosive device in Helmand Province.

Ten years later, he told 5 Live Breakfast he was on the plane to Tokyo – already “so excited” to be on the way to do his dream job of presenting at the Paralympics – when the air hostess came over.

“She sort of brought me to one side she said: ‘Mr Chalmers am I right in saying you served in Afghanistan?’ And I was like where is this going? What is going on here?

“And she said: ‘Our pilot actually flew you back from Afghanistan, flew you back into the UK when you were injured 10 years ago, and he’s noticed that and he’d like you to come this way, he’s going to take the plane off and then he’s going to come and have a word with you.’

“And I burst into tears, that was my reaction to that.”

Chalmers said at first he felt some apprehension towards meeting the pilot.

“He’s seen me unconscious, but like someone so profound and important in my life that you never think that you’re going to meet, so I was overwhelmed by emotion,” he said.

And he said he was glad to be travelling with Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson, as “I would’ve just been a blubbering mess otherwise.”

Explaining how the pilot realised he was onboard, Chalmers said: “They get the passenger manifest three days before and he always takes a bit of a glance down and he said, particularly when you’re working on something like this, you know there’s going to be athletes and what not on board.

“He recognised my name, he googled it, and he found one of the first articles come up gave the specific date that I was injured, on 27 May 2011.

“So he took out his old RAF flying log, and he looked down it, and did the maths and figured out – yeah, right enough it was him that had brought me back and so he brought the log along with him.

“It was really nice… we were able to just talk like two veterans and it was really nice to, you know, pass the time talking to someone that sort of had a familiar background to what I did.”

Chalmers said that when he got off the plane he told the pilot: “I owe something that I’ll never be able to repay to you, I’m unbelievably grateful for what you did for me – thank you – and in fairness his response was just perfect it was: ‘We all had a job to do, that’s what you did, that’s what I did, that’s what we all did.'”

After leaving the military, Chalmers won medals in non-amputee cycling in the Invictus Games and has since become a TV presenter, hosting coverage of the Paralympics. He also starred in Strictly Come Dancing last year.

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