(Below) Flight Lieutenant Rakesh Chauhan of the Royal Air Force, who was one of five service personnel who died when his Lynx helicopter (above) crashed in Kandahar on April 26
London, April 30: An Indian father has paid tribute to his “hero” son, Flight Lieutenant Rakesh Chauhan, 29, who was one of five British servicemen killed in Afghanistan when their Lynx helicopter crashed at about 11pm last Saturday in Kandahar province.
His death brings the number of deaths of British servicemen and women since the current troubles began in Afghanistan in 2001 to 453. But since the British are currently in the process of ending their military deployment in the country, there is almost an element of Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front about Rakesh’s death.
He was due home to Cropston, Leicestershire, next week after completing his third tour of duty in Afghanistan. Although the Taliban claim to have shot down the helicopter (as they always do), the Royal Air Force says a technical fault was to blame.
His four comrades also killed near Kandahar were: Lance Corporal Oliver Thomas, 26, of the Intelligence Corps and Captain Thomas Clarke, 30, WO2 Spencer Faulkner, 38, and Corporal James Walters, 36, of the Army Air Corps.
Their unit often supports operations by the elite Special Air Services (SAS). But their doomed mission was said to have been be a training flight.
Rakesh’s is a typical Indian family. Born in Birmingham on February 3, 1985, he leaves behind his father Kishor, mother Jyoti and older brother Kesh, 31. The family live in Leicester and run Milans Sarees, a shop in the city’s “Golden Mile”.
The family have reason to be immensely proud of their son.
Rakesh’s 61-year-old father said that his son (known to his friends as “Rak”) was “extremely patriotic and proud to be serving and fighting for his country. He was so committed. He threw himself into challenges, not leaving anything to chance. He has been passionate about joining the RAF since he was 11. He loved it, and I took comfort from seeing him happy in what he was doing. He was very patriotic about Britain, for which he made the ultimate sacrifice”.
Rakesh was educated at King Edward’s School, a top school in the West Midlands. He left in 2003 and studied at St Andrew’s University in Fife (alma mater for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge) before starting officer training in 2008.
Upon commissioning into the RAF’s Intelligence Branch he underwent further training at the Defence Intelligence and Security Centre at Chicksands in Bedfordshire, serving at RAF Waddington and RAF Marham, and in Afghanistan. He was deployed to Afghanistan for his third tour on 13 February 2014 as an intelligence officer in support of the UK’s armed forces deployed on Operation Herrick.
Rev. Duncan Raynor, King Edward’s School Chaplain and Combined Cadet Force Contingent Commander, also paid tribute.
“During his final year he achieved the rank of Cadet Warrant Officer in the RAF Section of the Combined Cadet Force, and was awarded the medal for the school’s most outstanding cadet,” he disclosed.
“He gained the respect of both staff and students for his wholehearted commitment to every challenge he undertook, and for his sense of humour and enjoyment of life.
“He was a regular visitor to the school and spoke to me at length last year about the challenges and the risks of his deployment to Afghanistan. He was genuinely delighted to be assigned to a task in which he could use his intellect and his training to make a real difference to the world around him.
“He accepted the risks, but felt very strongly that this was a job worth doing and that the best thing to do was to get on with it.”
Raynor commented: “We are desperately sad to hear of his death, and our hearts go out to his family. We shall remember him with great affection, and with great respect for his determination to do a good job, and for the way he cared about the people around him and the world in which he lived.”
Group Captain Richard Maddison, Station Commander at RAF Odiham, spoke of the fallen men. “It was only a week before the accident that I visited their unit in Afghanistan, and flew in a Lynx... While on the ground at their base I also spent time with Flight Lieutenant Chauhan, who was the same consummate professional that so many of us at RAF Odiham had come to know.”
“Charming, funny and sharp as a tack, he was immensely proud of his role and of his service,” said Maddison. “An exceptional officer, he clearly had a bright future ahead of him. His loss has devastated the station and our thoughts and prayers are very much with his family and friends.”
There was a statement from defence secretary Philip Hammond: “Lynx Mk 9A helicopters have a good operational safety record and commanders have judged that it is safe for the fleet to continue to operate while the investigation is carried out.”
Saturday’s incident equals the previous worst disaster involving a British helicopter, when a Lynx aircraft crashed in Basra City, Iraq, in May 2006 killing the five service personnel on board.
Nato forces are currently preparing to withdraw combat troops by the end of this year, with responsibility for fighting the Taliban uprising handed over to the Afghan army and police.