x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Injured British soldiers get lift from skydive

Pilgrim Bandits bring British army amputees to Dubai for skydiving.

Ben Parkinson, centre, who lost both legs in a blast in Afghanistan, yesterday skydived from 4,000 metres.
Ben Parkinson, centre, who lost both legs in a blast in Afghanistan, yesterday skydived from 4,000 metres.

Two British army soldiers who lost limbs in Afghanistan were in great spirits when they skydived in Dubai yesterday.

Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson, 27, and Rifleman Jake Partlett, 21, were brought to Dubai by the British charity Pilgrim Bandits to raise awareness about its work and help them regain their confidence.

L/Bdr Parkinson lost both legs after his vehicle was blown up by an improvised explosive device, while Jake lost a leg after stepping on a landmine during a routine patrol.

The men jumped in tandem with instructors from an airplane at just under 4,000 metres at Skydive Dubai. "It's a brilliant feeling," said Rfmn Partlett afterwards. "Dubai looks great from above. There were no clouds and the sky was clear. It's amazing. I am planning to come here again and do one more skydive."

Rfmn Partlett said his life slowed down a bit after the accident but he is doing fine. "I go to the gym every day to keep myself fit. I am also planning to study further and do other activities. It's difficult to lead a normal life but everything happens for a reason and I am all right with it," he said.

L/Bdr Parkinson, who also fought in Iraq and Kosovo, was wounded in Helmand province in 2006.

As well as losing both legs, he suffered brain injuries that caused him to have speech difficulties. His stepfather, Andrew Dernie, accompanied him on the trip to Dubai.

Mr Dernie said he was proud of his stepson. "The way he is fighting back makes us feel proud about him," said Mr Dernie. "He was in the army all his life and still misses it. He is a great soldier."

Mike Witt, one of the founders of the Pilgrim Bandits, said they were enjoying their trip to Dubai. "We went to watch the cricket match on Friday and also went to the Rugby Sevens in the evening," he said. "It was great."

He said the group wanted to create something tougher and more challenging for amputees returning from conflicts.

"By taking them on adventure training expeditions where the conditions are similar to those in the forces, they don't get any sympathy, but instead they are pushed and their confidence in their ability to achieve slowly returns.

"This in turn then strengthens their self-belief, which enables them to compete in events like the Paralympics."

frahman@thenational.ae