Kevin George Francis Rescued Pilot, Himself After T-33
A British aircraft engineer who braved intense heat and thick,
acrid smoke to rescue his colleague from the wreckage of a vintage
aircraft accident will be awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal.
Kevin George Francis was recommended for the honor for his actions
on September 6, 2006, when he worked for the
Aircraft Restoration Company at the Imperial War Museum Duxford in
Francis' duties included the maintenance of a Lockheed/Canadair
T-33 aircraft operated from the airfield. On that day, he was in
the rear cockpit of the aircraft as it took off en route to the
Jersey Air Show.
As it sped down the runway, the aircraft failed to get safely
airborne and it left the end of the runway at high speed and still
at full power. The plane cart-wheeled through the air before
hitting the ground and smashing through a line of trees. The
aircraft broke up on impact and there was an explosive ball which
extended more than 100 feet into the air.
Amid the intense heat, burning fuel and choking fumes, Francis
managed to use the plane's emergency knife/hammer to cut a hole in
the cockpit canopy, allowing some of the smoke to escape.
Although he was able to squeeze his way out of the broken canopy,
the pilot was slumped in his seat and did not respond to calls.
Despite flames engulfing parts of the cockpit, Francis ran to
the front of the aircraft and deployed the emergency canopy
jettison mechanism, which fired the canopy clear of the burning
aircraft. This enabled him to climb on to the canopy rail, release
the pilot from his harness and pull him clear.
"My actions on the day were just what came naturally," Francis
said. "I suppose I acted on instinct more than anything. I couldn't
breathe or see properly but I just went on to auto-pilot and acted
like a robot. It was almost like there was someone else in my body
-- a very weird experience."
The QGM is awarded to civilians and military personnel in
recognition of "exemplary acts of bravery". Although the decoration
has been in existence since 1974, fewer than 600 have been
"I heard about this incident shortly after it happened and I was
struck by the presence of mind and bravery Mr. Francis displayed -
despite the shock of being involved in such a traumatic accident,"
said Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy.
"Although this is a civilian award and Mr Francis is not a member
of the military, his actions demonstrate the type of gallantry I
would be proud of in any member of the Royal Air Force, and I would
like to offer him my sincere congratulations on receiving this
"This has come as a great surprise to me -- it's quite difficult
to take it in, but of course I am very honored," Francis said of