SAAF reject wins top honour in Royal Air Force
A FORMER Maritzburg schoolboy, who was rejected when he tried to join the South African Air Force in 1995, has been awarded a coveted medal for bravery and skill during combat as a pilot in Britain's Royal Air Force.
Flight-Lieutenant Luke Flemington, who went to school at Maritzburg College, will receive the Distinguished Flying Cross at a ceremony probably at Windsor Castle, outside London, later this year. The medal might be presented to him by Queen Elizabeth.
The DFC is awarded for "acts of valour, courage or dedication to duty while flying in active operations against the enemy".
Flemington commanded a Hercules C-130 aircraft that landed at a remote strip, under fire, during the Libyan unrest in February last year to rescue stranded British and foreign oil workers.
According to British news reports at the time, the four-engined Hercules had to abandon several attempts to land when confused rebels opened fire on it.
Flemington said: "During one attempt to rescue the workers, a bullet came in through the windscreen, smashing through my co-pilot's head-up display and then bouncing off his helmet.
"We could hear the bangs as the shots hit the fuselage, and I felt the compression as one bullet came into the cockpit."
Asked what it was like trying to fly a large transport aircraft close to the ground while under fire, he replied: "It gets your attention and certainly focuses the mind."
Flemington said he and his crew had to fly several missions from Malta, where his squadron was based, across the Mediterranean to the Libyan desert to get to the workers.
"On one of our first successful missions to evacuate stranded oil workers we squeezed 155 of them into an aircraft that would normally carry between 90 to 110 people," said Flemington.
In his 10 years in the RAF, Flemington has spent considerable time in both Iraq and Afghanistan flying Hercules aircraft in tactical roles.
After matriculating in 1995, he applied to the SAAF for pilot training but was turned down. He then did a post-matric year at Michaelhouse, in KwaZulu-Natal, before emigrating to New Zealand with his parents.
He completed a degree in aviation there as well as obtaining his commercial pilot's licence and instructor's rating.
In 2002 he applied to and was accepted by the RAF, and went on to fly Hawk jet fighters, much the same as those recently acquired by the SAAF.
He is the son of former South African Airways pilot, Captain Blake Flemington, who in May 1972, while on a flight from Salisbury (now Harare) to Johannesburg, was hijacked by a disgruntled man who claimed he was owed money by Anglo American.
Blake, at the time the youngest Boeing 727 captain in the airline, was forced by Fouad "Flash Fred" Kamil to fly back to Salisbury.
On landing, Blake convinced Kamil to let the passengers disembark before the aircraft took off for Blantyre, Malawi.
On arrival, the 727 was disabled by security forces and Kamil and his accomplice were arrested and jailed.
Blake was widely praised for his cool handling of the hijacking.