Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Chopper pilot flew into 'a river of tracer fire'

Royal New Zealand Air Force Squadron Leader Ben Pryor. Photo / ADF
Royal New Zealand Air Force Squadron Leader Ben Pryor. Photo / ADF

Ben Pryor: Gallantry Medal

With bullets kicking up dust in front of him and insurgent rounds pinging off his helicopter cockpit, every fibre in Flight Lieutenant Ben Pryor's body told him to flee

But the Royal Air Force mission depended on him. As did the crack British troops who'd already been dropped into the "hot" drop-zone close to the insurgent's fortified compound. So the Auckland father-of-two fought his internal urges and stayed firm.

After abandoning his first approach where his cockpit was hit three times, the now-Squadron Leader took his Chinook at the lead of an eight-ship air assault back into the intense enemy machinegun fire, later described by colleagues as "a river of tracer coming at our aircraft".

Showing "remarkable courage in the face of extreme danger", he landed and got his troops on the ground, while returning effective fire.

His exploits on April 22 last year in the hostile Helmand province have won him a top war decoration.

"I'm incredibly honoured, proud, and humbled, but any pilots put in the same situation would've done the same," said 38-year-old Squadron Leader Pryor of his New Zealand Gallantry Medal (NZGM) awarded today.

His medal citation also highlights another mission where he flew into more intense small-arms and grenade fire to rescue a shot American soldier.

"This was the second time in as many months that Squadron Leader Pryor had displayed calmness, courage, and professionalism in a situation of intense pressure and while under enemy fire," it reads.

The feats came while the 17-year Royal New Zealand Air Force veteran was on a four-year secondment with the famed RAF.


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