When a mid-air collision threatened to end his career, former Red Arrows pilot Mike Ling knew he could rely on the RAF Benevolent Fund for support.
Renowned as the Red Arrows' longest serving pilot, Squadron Leader Mike Ling retired from the Royal Air Force after 21 years in April 2019. He has since joined the Blades, an aerobatic display team of former Red Arrow pilots, who proudly support the Fund.
Mike joined the Royal Air Force in 2007 aged 19 after attending Air Cadets in his youth. Over the course of 10 years with the Reds, Mike clocked up 2,500 flights and more than 1,765 flying hours - but this wasn't all turbulence free. In fact, Mike's dream job almost came to a catastrophic end following a mid-air collision.
In March 2010, Mike was practicing with the rest of the Reds out in Crete. Mike was on his second trip out of the day, leading the Synchro Pair with Monty (David Montenegro), when disaster struck.
"It was one of those split second things – as we got closer together mid-air I remember thinking that we were going to hit, I remember us hitting and I remember, vividly, making the decision to eject from the aircraft. I remember the force of the ejection, but I got knocked out just after that moment, and didn't come to until I hit the ground."
When Mike came to, he could hear the roaring sound of his crashed jet on fire behind him. There was grit in his eyes and he had badly injured his legs and arms, sustained burns, dislocated his shoulder, suffered lacerations on his face and damaged his lungs.
Help quickly arrived to the scene. Despite the scale of Mike's injuries, his first question was "Where's Monty?". Having heard the two planes collide, Mike didn't believe it when he was told Monty was still airborne. It was only when he heard Monty on the handheld radio that he knew he was okay - and it was at this point that the gravity of his accident began to sink in.
The ambulance had to drive for an hour through mountainous roads to get to the hospital, where Mike spent a few nights before being evacuated out to Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham. Here he spent three and a half weeks before moving to Headley Court. The extent of his injuries meant he was confined to a wheelchair.
However, although Mike was grateful to still be alive, the wheelchair he was in was not suited to his lifestyle. He couldn't move freely or even make himself a cup of tea, which meant he felt like a burden to those around him.
However, with the help of the Fund, Mike was able to get back on his feet and back in the air. By providing a powered wheelchair for the remainder of his recovery, Mike was able to take care of himself and regain some of the independence he lost after his accident.
"Without the Fund's support I wouldn't have been able to head back out to Cyprus to visit the team and have banter with the boys. More importantly, after a few months of rehab I was able to get in the Hawk again as a passenger – a moment I'll always remember.
"The powered wheelchair made a world of difference to me: without it, I wouldn't have been as positive as I was nor would I have recovered as quickly. I didn't have to rely on people to do things for me – it made a massive difference to not only my quality of life and but my family's too.
"It was so warming to know that the Fund were there for me and without them I wouldn't have been able to get back on my feet - or back in the cockpit."
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