Royal Navy flier honoured for successful crash landing

Lieutenant Commander Christopher Gotke
Lieutenant Commander Christopher Gotke
HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier leaves Portsmouth Naval Base for the first time on October 30. 

Picture: Malcolm Wells

HMS Queen Elizabeth due into Portsmouth next week

  • Lieutenant Commander Christopher Gotke wins Air Force Cross
0
Have your say

A Royal Navy officer looks set to become a YouTube sensation after he was awarded a medal for his bravery while crash landing a historic fighter plane.

Lieutenant Commander Christopher Gotke, 44, said he was “shocked and amazed” to receive an Air Force Cross despite serving in the Royal Navy all his life.

A video of his astonishing landing at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose in Cornwall on July 31 2014 has already been viewed more than 339,000 times online.

The pilot was flying a Sea Fury T20 from 1944 in an aerobatic sequence as part of an historic flight display on Air Day when the plane’s engine began to lose power.

He responded immediately by lowering the landing gear and positioning the aircraft for landing while informing air traffic control that he was in trouble.

While he tried to carry out the manoeuvre, the engine failed completely, with 21,000 people watching on in horror as the Sea Fury billowed smoke and rapidly lost altitude.

In a split second, Lieutenant Commander Gotke decided to fly the aircraft to safety rather than parachute out and abandon the machine to its fate.

By raising the undercarriage he improved the plane’s chances of gliding and smoothly handled the plane passed the airfield boundary, avoiding disaster.

Although it was partly damaged, the aircraft is now being repaired and will fly again “some time next year”.

The father-of-two, originally from Kent but now stationed in Yeovilton, Somerset, joked that his wife Georgia and daughters were only third on his list of calls after the incident.

It looks a lot more dramatic from the outside than it felt from the inside - when I was bouncing across the grass it was just like being in a bumper car

Lieutenant Commander Christopher Gotke

He said: “The first people I called were the people who look after the aircraft, to tell them I was now looking at a very sad aeroplane on the side of the runway.

“They thought I was joking.

“The second was the Commodore at the base, saying ‘Well, that didn’t end up very well’.

“And the third one was to the wife saying ‘Had a slight engine issue, won’t be back tonight but I won’t be flying this weekend’.

“I don’t think she was really listening because the kids were playing havoc in the background.

“I said I’d had a rough running engine and she kind of acknowledged it a little bit, but when I called her back I said it was a bit more than just a rough running engine.

“It looks a lot more dramatic from the outside than it felt from the inside - when I was bouncing across the grass it was just like being in a bumper car.”

Lieutenant Commander Gotke, who joined the Royal Navy in 1992 as a pilot, said that members of the public watching had never been at risk.

“The safety of the crowd was never a factor because the aircraft was fully controllable,” he said.

There are still three to four Sea Fury planes in the UK.

First manufactured by Hawker towards the end of the Second World War, it was the last propeller-driver fighter to serve with the Royal Navy.

It was also one of the fastest production single piston-engined aircraft ever built.

The Air Force Cross is awarded for “an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying, though not in active operations against the enemy”.