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JJ Chalmers discovers pilot flying him to Tokyo is the same man who airlifted him from Afghanistan

Former Royal Marine JJ Chalmers broke down in tears after discovering that the pilot flying him to Tokyo to host the Paralympics on Channel 4 was the same man who airlifted him from Afghanistan in a coma after he was injured by a Taliban bomb.

The TV presenter and former Strictly star, whose full name is John James Chalmers, was serving in Afghanistan as a Royal Marine Reservist when he was injured by an improvised explosive device (IED) in May 2011. 

As well as leaving him in a coma, the blast ‘crushed’ his face, broke his neck, caused injuries to both legs and ‘smashed’ his arms ‘to pieces’. 

He was then flown back to the UK and spent weeks in hospital, where doctors took a skin graft from his abdomen to save his right arm.

Speaking today on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Paralympic Breakfast show, Chalmers told how he ‘burst into tears’ after being told that the pilot taking him to Japan was the same man who ferried him back to Britain ten years ago.

Pilot David Ellis, who was serving in the RAF at the time of Chalmers’ rescue, had prepared for their new encounter by bringing his old logbook which listed the 2011 rescue flight.

Former Royal Marine JJ Chalmers broke down in tears after discovering that the pilot flying him to Tokyo to host the Paralympics on Channel 4 was the same man, David Ellis, who airlifted him from Afghanistan in a coma after he was injured by a Taliban bomb. Pictured: The pair on the recent flight

The TV presenter, whose full name is John James Chalmers, was serving in Afghanistan as a Marine Reservist when he was injured by an improvised explosive device (IED) in May 2011. Above: Chalmers in hospital after the blast

The TV presenter, whose full name is John James Chalmers, was serving in Afghanistan as a Marine Reservist when he was injured by an improvised explosive device (IED) in May 2011. Above: Chalmers in hospital after the blast

Speaking to BBC presenter Tanni Grey-Thompson, who was with him on the flight, he said: ‘I was flown back from Afghanistan in an induced coma. It was 48 hours after I’d been injured. 

‘Fast forward ten years later and I’m getting onto this plane to fly out to Tokyo to do one of my dream jobs, which I was so excited about. 

‘It was a special enough moment as it was before the air stewardess pulled me to one side when she saw my name.

‘She brought me to one side she said: ‘Mr Chalmers, am I right in saying you served in Afghanistan?’ 

‘And I was like, where is this going? What is going on here? And she said: ‘Our pilot actually flew you back from Afghanistan, flew you back into the UK when you were injured ten years ago, and he’s noticed that and he’d like you to come this way. 

‘He’s gonna take the plane off and then he’s gonna come and have a word with you.’

As well as leaving him in a coma, the blast 'crushed' his face, broke his neck, caused injuries to both legs and 'smashed' his arms 'to pieces'. Pictured: Chalmers in hospital in Afghanistan before he was flown home

As well as leaving him in a coma, the blast ‘crushed’ his face, broke his neck, caused injuries to both legs and ‘smashed’ his arms ‘to pieces’. Pictured: Chalmers in hospital in Afghanistan before he was flown home

Pilot David Ellis showed Chalmers his RAF logbook which recorded the 2011 rescue flight on which the soldier was returned to the UK

Pilot David Ellis showed Chalmers his RAF logbook which recorded the 2011 rescue flight on which the soldier was returned to the UK

‘I burst into tears, that was my reaction to that. Thankfully actually, Tanni, you were there.’

Chalmers added: ‘There’s apprehension of meeting someone that I’ve never met before, really – he’s seen me unconscious – but someone so profound and important in my life that you never think that you’re gonna meet, so I was overwhelmed by emotion.’

He said that if he had not been able to look at Ms Grey-Thompson’s ‘familiar face’ before the pilot emerged, he would have been a ‘blubbering mess’.   

The pilot prepared for the encounter after receiving the passenger manifest for the Tokyo flight and recognising Chalmers’ name. 

After searching on Google, Mr Ellis found the specific date that the former soldier was injured and realised he had flown him out of Afghanistan.  

‘Right enough it was him that had brought me back and so he brought the log along with him and like you say Tanni, he was ready for it, and it was so matter of fact to him,’ Chalmers said. 

‘It was really nice because he kept coming out throughout the flight and we were able to just talk like two veterans. 

Doctors saved Chalmers' right arm, which had had a large chunk gouged out of it, by using skin from his midriff. They cut open his abdomen and then folded the loose flap of skin over his arm and sewing it in place inside. Above: The former soldier shows his scars in 2014 during the Invictus Games

Doctors saved Chalmers’ right arm, which had had a large chunk gouged out of it, by using skin from his midriff. They cut open his abdomen and then folded the loose flap of skin over his arm and sewing it in place inside. Above: The former soldier shows his scars in 2014 during the Invictus Games

‘It was really nice to pass the time talking to someone that sort of had a familiar background to what I did.’

‘But I really made sure that when I got off the plane I just cut the nonsense: ‘[it was] really nice to talk to you as another human being, but listen, I owe something that I’ll never be able to repay to you. 

‘I’m unbelievably grateful for what you did for me. Thank you.’

‘His response was just perfect. It was: ‘We all had a job to do. That’s what you did. That’s what I did. That’s what we all did.’

After leaving the armed forces Chalmers won medals in non-amputee cycling events at the veterans’ Invictus Games.

After starring in Strictly Come Dancing with dance partner Amy Dowden, Chalmers is now hosting coverage of the Paralympics. 

Speaking in 2014 of the bomb blast which maimed him, Chalmers said: ‘When I woke in hospital in Birmingham ten days after the attack the problem was that while I was intact, nothing worked: the blast crushed my face, broke my neck, injured both legs and smashed my arms to pieces.’

Doctors saved his right arm, which had had a large chunk gouged out of it, by using skin from his midriff.

They cut open his abdomen and then folded the loose flap of skin over his arm and sewing it in place inside.

Chalmers said: ‘It was like a sling created out of my own skin,’ JJ explains. The damaged arm remained there for six weeks, attached to the blood supply of the abdomen.

‘Over the weeks they cut small sections of the flap away and each time, my body learned to pump more blood directly into my arm, and a bit less to it through my abdomen. 

‘At the end of it, they separated them completely, and the wound on my arm is covered with skin from my abdomen.’  

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk