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Soldier who suffered 63% burns in plane crash reveals he planned trip to Dignitas to end his life

A soldier who suffered 63 per cent burns when he leapt from his burning plane before it plummeted to the ground has revealed he planned a trip to Dignitas to end his own life after spending 15 gruelling months in hospital.

SAS trooper Jamie Hull, now 45, from Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, was in the ‘prime of his life’ when the life-changing accident, which saw him spend six months in a medically-induced coma and a further 18 months in hospital recovering, happened in August 2007.

Then 32, Jamie had enrolled in a training programme in Florida to fulfill a life-time ambition of learning to fly during some time off before his SAS unit was due to deploy to Afghanistan.

Two weeks in, while on the final stretch of a solo flight, his engine caught fire when he was 1,000ft above the ground. In his gripping new memoir, Life On A Thread, Jamie recounts the dramatic events which saw his body become consumed by flames as he steered the aircraft towards the aerodrome runway before climbing onto the left wing and leaping 15ft to the ground.

Jamie recounts the dramatic events which saw his body become consumed by flames as he steered the aircraft towards the grass beside the aerodrome runway before climbing onto the left wing and leaping 15ft to the ground in his new memoir

SAS reservist Jamie Hull, now 45, from Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, was in the 'prime of his life' when the life-changing accident, which saw him spend six months in a medically-induced coma and a further 18 months in hospital recovering, happened in August 2007

SAS reservist Jamie Hull, now 45, from Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, was in the ‘prime of his life’ when the life-changing accident, which saw him spend six months in a medically-induced coma and a further 18 months in hospital recovering, happened in August 2007

Following the accident, in addition to the burns on his flesh, Jamie suffered a number of internal injuries including kidney failure, renal failure, pneumonia and speticaemia, and was given just a five per cent chance of survival by doctors. 

While being treated at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire, 15 months after the crash, Jamie planned to take his own life as the last residues of hope ‘began to drain away’. Writing in his book, he explained: ‘My existence had become intolerable, the future was an appalling prospect. 

‘I was worse than a waste of space, I was a millstone. My body and I had put up an epic fight but, well into the second year of it, I remained in agony and despair. So, I end my life… This was the best outcome for me, no question, and, once the initial grief had passed, probably for my family too. I was no longer going to be a burden and a worry to everyone for the rest of my days.’

He admitted his mother ‘wasn’t keen’ on the idea of driving him to the Dignitas clinic and encouraged him to accept a visit from an African pastor from her church who wanted to meet him.

Jamie suffered 63 per cent burns when he leapt from his burning plane before it plummeted to the ground (pictured)

Jamie suffered 63 per cent burns when he leapt from his burning plane before it plummeted to the ground (pictured)

It was this man, Pastor Billy, whom Jamie credits with changing his mind about dying – but only after he agreed to take him to Switzerland and ‘see him through it’, on the condition he wait one more month.

Despite his frustration at the delay, Jamie said it was ‘amazing how the prospect of imminent death can lift the spirits’ – before his newfound positivity ultimately reversed his decision about ending it all. 

Jamie explained how it was Pastor Billy who ‘triggered’ the change in his mindset, and called him his ‘guardian angel’. The week after they made their pact, Jamie underwent a huge skin-graft operation which was a great success, and he turned a corner in his healing process.

‘Seeing my skin healing before my very eyes, I was experiencing some sort of low-grade religious experience,’ he wrote. ‘At the very least, it was a sense of tremendous wonder… The word “miracle” was working its way around my mind and when the nurses and doctors and visitors came to see me, the word was even being uttered in one form or another. “Why, it’s miraculous Jamie!”  

In his book, Jamie reveals that while being treated at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire, 15 months after the crash, he planned to take his own life as the last residues of hope 'began to drain away'

In his book, Jamie reveals that while being treated at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire, 15 months after the crash, he planned to take his own life as the last residues of hope ‘began to drain away’

Nine months after Pastor Billy’s ‘intervention’, Jamie was discharged from Stoke Mandeville in August 2009. While there have been ‘dark days’, Jamie told how he hasn’t considered suicide again, and was determined to make the most of the life he’d been left with.

Now, after 62 agonising operations under general anaesthetic, Jamie is still having laser treatment on his skin but has made incredible strides – after barely leaving his hometown during his first year at home other than for hospital appointments.

He described feeling like the ‘Elephant Man in the room’ as he came into contact with the public. Procedures that removed his muscles left him walking like a ‘show pony with shin splints’ and with a ‘Quasimodo-style’ hunch, made worse by a huge hernia. He said a number of people stopped to ask him if he was in the Armed Forces, with the sacrifice of British troops in Afghanistan prevalent in the news at the time. 

He began to think of himself as a ‘long-term project’ which helped his recovery; he measured his progress in small incremental grades, such as upping the distances he walked and managed to make a cup of tea unaided – all of which required him to learn the virtue of patience. 

Speaking to Lorraine Kelly last week, on the day his book – dedicated to the nurse who accompanied him during his hospital treatment – was published, Jamie said he hoped his story would inspire other people facing challenges in their lives.

‘I think ultimately, it’s a real journey my story, it’s the comeback story book from the very lowest end to what you can go down to,’ he said. 

‘Ultimately, I’d like people to take strength and I believe that they will and a degree hope from my story to go forward in their own lives.’

In the book, Jamie told how he turned his life around when he was 16, having fallen into a bad crowd and failed all but one of his GCSEs.

‘It has been a long journey from my delinquent teenage years, that’s for sure,’ he said. ‘When I was 16, drugs and crime were likely going to be my career, probably some jail time too.’

Jamie told how he’d gone from ‘classroom lay-about, street corner scally and petty criminal’ to ‘an elite soldier, a mountain leader, an instructor in scuba diving, Nordic and Alpine skiing, a fully qualified paramedic, the holder of a master’s degree and the speaker of four languages’ before being poised to add a pilot’s license to his impressive list when the crash happened.

Jamie told how he'd gone from 'classroom lay-about, street corner scally and petty criminal' to 'an elite soldier, a mountain leader, an instructor in scuba diving, Nordic and Alpine skiing, a fully qualified paramedic, the holder of a master's degree and the speaker of four languages' before being poised to add a pilot's license to his impressive list when the crash happened (pictured before)

Jamie told how he’d gone from ‘classroom lay-about, street corner scally and petty criminal’ to ‘an elite soldier, a mountain leader, an instructor in scuba diving, Nordic and Alpine skiing, a fully qualified paramedic, the holder of a master’s degree and the speaker of four languages’ before being poised to add a pilot’s license to his impressive list when the crash happened (pictured before)

In the book, Jamie told how he turned his life around when he was 16, having fallen into a bad crowd and failed all but one of his GCSEs

In the book, Jamie told how he turned his life around when he was 16, having fallen into a bad crowd and failed all but one of his GCSEs

He recalls the accident in harrowing detail, admitting his first thought when he saw flames licking from the engine was to ‘get this burning b*****d to the ground’.

As the fire began to envelope the cockpit, and his body, Jamie said he initially felt no pain, with adrenaline having taken over. He described ‘sitting in a moving fire’ as he steered the aircraft towards the damp grass, knowing if he leapt onto concrete he’d die.

‘I am aware of intense heat but I am not in pain. Weird. The human body is an amazing bit of kit… the flames are dancing around my chin. I am calm but I am hyperventilating through the side of my mouth. I guess to keep the fire out. It isn’t a decision, just a reflex,’ he wrote.

As he climbed onto the wing, Jamie said he was hit by a ‘tornado of fire’ which he likened to a giant blowtorch, and the ‘worst pain’ he has experienced.

As he stood up, he described the right side of his body ‘melting through the muscle down to the bone’ and ‘blistering and bubbling like a chop under a grill on max’ while his clothes were incinerating and his hair was on fire. 

In his memoir, Jamie recalls the accident in harrowing detail, admitting his first thought when he saw flames licking from the engine was to 'get this burning b*****d to the ground' (pictured on Lorraine last week)

In his memoir, Jamie recalls the accident in harrowing detail, admitting his first thought when he saw flames licking from the engine was to ‘get this burning b*****d to the ground’ (pictured on Lorraine last week)

His fall was heavy, breaking his collarbone, fracturing his nose, eye socket and cheekbone, rupturing his gut and liver, and he told how he curled his smoldering body into the foetal position and watched the plane hit the ground 70ft away and explode moments later, bursting his ear drum.

Jamie was left with third degree burns and rapidly experienced the ‘stages of grief’ – first ‘violent anger’, followed by ‘crushing despair’, then resignation of his ‘horrific fate’.

‘No one on the planet at that moment is suffering worse pain than me,’ he wrote. ‘The skin on my body has gone, a lot of muscle and sinew and tissue too, I have no ears, no hair, my face is torched and caved in, my eye socket and nose are shattered, my collarbone ripped away, my insides torn to shreds. I am so f*****g dying. I am dying as hideously as a man can die.’

Upon reaching hospital in Orlando, Jamie begged doctors to knock him out with anaesthetic, and six months later he woke up in Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford, Essex, on one of the country’s leading burns units, with his parents – who are separated – by his bedside. While in America, he had received £1.8million worth of intensive care treatment.

Jamie added that one of his 'greatest love affairs,' was diving, and he was overjoyed at being able to go back to his hobby following the accident

Jamie added that one of his ‘greatest love affairs,’ was diving, and he was overjoyed at being able to go back to his hobby following the accident

Jamie recalled the desperate shock of seeing his face for the first time which was still raw and scarred. His hair had not grown back and his ears were reduced to stubs. 

It took a further two-and-a-half years for Jamie’s skin to heal. While appearing on Lorraine, Jamie thanked the hospital staff who helped save his life and accompanied his recovery.

‘To quote one aspect of the book for the listeners, I became adjunct of machinery. A living receptical for machines, wires, tubes and powerful pharmaceuticals, with a great help from the medical teams both in Florida in the private hospital there and a lot of credit to the staff of the NHS for the total of two years I was in the hospital,’ he said.

‘I was able to keep fighting and hold on with everything I had and pull through.’ 

Since his accident, Jamie has obtained a scholarship to learn to operate hot air balloons which has helped him come ‘full circle’.

While appearing on Lorraine, Jamie thanked the hospital staff who helped save his life and accompanied his recovery

While appearing on Lorraine, Jamie thanked the hospital staff who helped save his life and accompanied his recovery

‘To improve on my self confidence, self esteem, I can’t emphasis what that did for me to get back up in the air again,’ he said.

Jamie added that one of his ‘greatest love affairs,’ was diving, and he was overjoyed at being able to go back to his hobby following the accident.

‘I actually went back to it, when I was on my hospital bed, I dreamed of going back to the ocean, but I didn’t think necessarily that I would be able to dive again,’ he said.

‘I was worried of the effect of salt water on my new skin grafts.’ However, the mineral balance in ocean water actually helped his skin heal.

Jamie, who was an Olympic torch bearer as part of the London 2012 Olympic Games, has participated in marathons, the Race Across America, the Help for Heroes Paris to London Big Battlefield bike ride, an expedition up Mount Kilimanjaro, and is competing in the Invictus Games – making his one of the world’s most inspiring survivor stories.

Life On A Thread by Jamie Hull is out now priced at £16.99 (Ebury Press).  

For confidential support, log on to samaritans.org or call the Samaritans on 116123.

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