Plane crash survivor’s quest to help injured veterans through scuba diving

Jamie Hull

Jamie Hull

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A soldier who defied doctors’ odds by surviving a horrific plane crash and suffering serious burns is helping injured war veterans as a scuba diving instructor.

Jamie Hull, from Berkhamsted, is working with the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) and charity Help for Heroes, as part of a rehabilitation programme for British ex-servicemen and women recovering from serious injuries and other conditions.

Jamie Hull

Jamie Hull

The 41-year-old, a former soldier in the UK Special Forces Reserve, miraculously survived life-changing injuries when he was involved in an air crash in 2007 while training for his private pilot’s licence.

During the long road to recovery, he endured 58 major operations and battled severe depression.

He says scuba diving gave him the means of fighting back against his injuries and is now honoured to be helping other wounded soldiers to do the same.

Jamie is now a fully qualified diving instructor with the Army Sub Aqua Diving Association (ASADA), a BSAC special branch, on the Help for Heroes-funded Sports Recovery programme.

The programme runs twice yearly diving expeditions to the island of Gozo in Malta to train ex-servicemen and women – some of whom have lost limbs in combat – to scuba dive.

Jamie said: “Diving is at the forefront of what I do now and believe in.

“Considering where I was physically and mentally post injury in comparison to where I am now as a result of pushing the boundaries, it has helped me enormously.

“I was going through a long and gruesome recovery in the early years and diving provided me with a tool to fight back.

“I’m in a much stronger place because of my efforts going back into the world of recreational diving. It did a lot to uplift me mentally. From my experience there’s no better way to help yourself than to help others and that’s what I’ve set out to do.”

Jamie, a qualified mountain leader who runs global military-style expeditions in addition to teaching diving, joined the army on the completion of a degree in Scandinavian Studies from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, at the age of 24. Throughout his studies, he was attached to the Cambridge University Officer Training Corps, where he gained a commission as an Army Reservist at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS) in Surrey, in 2003.

Before his accident, Jamie had served across the world in his seven-year career with the army.

He had been flying 1,000 feet above Ormond Beach airfield in Florida in 2007 when the engine of the Liberty XL2 two-seater plane he was piloting caught fire, sweeping through the cockpit. Amazingly, he managed to level the aircraft 15ft above the ground before climbing onto the left wing and leaping out.

The soldier suffered more than 60% burns and his chances of survival were slim but he battled his way through a six-month coma and numerous operations and reconstructive surgery.

Nine years on, and despite permanent nerve damage in his lower limbs, he says he is now fitter than ever before and has a catalogue of charity endurance achievements behind him including a gruelling climb of Mount Kilamanjaro, cycling hundreds of miles across the UK and in France in the Big Battlefield Bike Ride and pedalling to success in the Race Across America cycle ride. To top it all he has just been granted his balloon pilot’s licence.

He said: “I started to test myself and push my limitations. I realised I could still do things despite having 60%, third degree burns. That’s a large number in terms of trauma and coming back from that is no mean feat. It was extremely difficult and impossible to describe, it was horrific. The early years were tough.

“I knew diving from old and I wanted to try it again. I thought if I can do this again then I would like to use the skills in earnest and help others.

“Scuba diving is a huge rehabilitation tool. It’s an extremely powerful medium in sport rehab.

“It isn’t easy, it requires a degree of physical prowess and yet I’ve seen paraplegics and triple amputees be able to pull this off and I think it’s marvellous.

“When you’re working against the resistance of water and increased pressure at depth it magnifies the benefits of being on the surface of the water while swimming. It’s a wonderful tool for anyone who has a physical vulnerability.”

BSAC is the national governing body for scuba diving and is made up of 120 dive centres and 1,000 plus family friendly and sociable clubs, run by volunteers, up and down the country and abroad. The Duke of Cambridge is the club’s president.

It represents more than 30,000 scuba divers and snorkellers and welcomes new members from complete beginners upwards including those who have trained with other agencies.

So far, 18 diving expeditions have been organised in collaboration between Help for Heroes and BSAC’s ASADA branch, resulting in 80 qualifications.

All former military personnel selected for the training have been discharged from the services as a result of life-changing injuries or health conditions and volunteer to push the boundaries of their endurance and abilities as part of their ongoing recovery.

John Gibbon, Vice Chairman of BSAC special branch ASADA, responsible for the veterans’ training, said: “The Help for Heroes veterans are a great bunch to work with and always take a real ‘can-do’ approach.

“For some of them it will be a one-off experience while for others it will be the start of a life-long interest. Two or three have already been in touch about joining their local BSAC club.

“One of the key features for these trips is the camaraderie.

“Having come from a military background and been removed from that environment without a choice, they enjoy being back in that situation again, working as part of a team of people with a common purpose and background.”

He added: “Jamie is a remarkable role model: his enthusiasm is infectious and after a long, often tiring, day, his smile always gives me a lift.”

Mary Tetley, chief executive of BSAC said: “It’s wonderful to see people who have already been through so much, gaining new skills and confidence.

“Jamie’s achievements are an inspiration and we’re excited to have his support as he continues on his journey.”

Jamie, who grew up in Leighton Buzzard and attended Vandyke Upper School, has taken part in six expeditions so far and sees his role as central to his future.

He added: “Diving is a way of breaking down those anxiety barriers and through this it enhances individual confidence. It benefits their recovery and I see it time and time again.

“These guys have been through the mill and have benefitted immensely. I see a huge transition in their confidence every time.

“I probably have the ability to inspire them. I have come from a strong military background and have been through a tough time myself. I’m in much better shape now than ever before. For someone like myself to deliver this kind of training is quite powerful which is why I do what I do.

“Life is good again. I’m strong and getting on with life. I’ve achieved more than I ever thought I could.” For more information about BSAC go to www.bsac.com or follow the organisation on Facebook or Twitter @BSACDIVERS