WAR hero Flight Lieutenant Daniel Cullen has been awarded the RAF’s second highest award, the Distinguished Flying Cross , after saving the lives of 30 British soldiers in Afghanistan.
The Winslow airman flew his helicopter single handed after his co-pilot Richard Anderson was shot by the Taliban and slumped over the controls.
Flt Lt Cullen, 31, said: “There was a period when I had to overrule my instincts in the seconds following Richard being shot. We’d only just landed, my instinct was to take off and get out of a dangerous situation but I had to overcome that and stay to get the troops on board, because they were in a dangerous situation as well.”
Once everyone was safely on board and the helicopter was airborne the co-pilot collapsed over the controls and Flt Lt Cullen, known as Dan Dare to his colleagues, had to pull him upright with one hand while flying to regain control of the aircraft with his other hand.
He said: “It was pretty terrifying, it certainly focuses the mind. I’ve had similar incidents, but not quite as extreme, on previous deployments to Afghanistan. But this took pole position for the most hair raising, it’s the first time someone in my aircraft has been shot.”
Flt Lt Cullen lived in Winslow from the age of two and went to the village primary school before moving on to the Royal Latin in Buckingham, and then taking an areospace engineering degree at Kingston University. His parents, Dr Eric and Mrs Margaret Cullen, still live in Winslow.
Although Flt Lt Cullen told his father about the dramatic and dangerous rescue, his mother has only just found out, after the Ministry of Defence released the honours list.
“I didn’t wat to worry my mother,” he explained. “I’m going home to see my parents this weekend.”
Flt Lt Cullen’s interest in flying began at an early age when his parents bought him a flying lesson when he was just 10-years-old. He then joined the Air Training Corp in Buckingham when he was 14.
Dr Cullen said: “We are very proud of Daniel and we were overwhelmed when he told us about being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He has been to Afghanistan five times which is very worrying. We always hope for the best and remind ourselves he is flying, and the army troops on the ground are more exposed. He is a sensible chap and the RAF do all they can to protect their men.
“He is now training to be an instructor so we hope that reduces the risk of him going back there.”
Flt Lt Cullen lives at RAF Odiham in Hampshire with his wife Emma, 29, who is training to be a primary school teacher.
Flt Lt Cullen will be accompanied by his parents and his wife when he collects his medal from a member of the Royal Family at one of the palaces later in the year.
He said: “I can’t wait, if I’m honest, it’s something special for my wife and parents. It’s a once in a lifetime experience that we and my crew can be proud of. It was a team effort and I hope to celebrate with my crew afterwards.”
Flt Lt Cullen will be given advice on the appropriate occasions when he should wear his medal.