A KwaZulu-Natal man who was rejected by the South African Air Force is to be awarded the highly coveted Distinguished Flying Cross for completing dangerous combat missions as a pilot for Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF).
Luke Flemington, an RAF flight lieutenant, will be awarded the medal at a ceremony due to be held at Windsor Castle, one of the official residences of Queen Elizabeth II, later this year.
The former Maritzburg College pupil will be honoured for rescuing trapped British and foreign workers from an oil field in Libya at the beginning of the revolution in February last year.
During the mission, Flemington’s Hercules C-130 aircraft came under attack from Libyan soldiers.
He said he was the captain of one of three Hercules planes sent into Libya in February at the start of the civil war.
They were required to land on a remote air strip to rescue workers who were trapped in the middle of the conflict between the Free Libyan Army and Muammar Gaddafi’s forces.
Flemington said that on the second day his aircraft came under fire. “We encountered small arms fire on our approach to the oil refinery desert strip. The aircraft sustained minor damage and my co- pilot was struck in his helmet by a round that entered the flight deck,” Flemington told the Daily News. “It was pretty scary.”
Flemington grew up in the KZN Midlands and went to boarding school in Pietermaritzburg, attending Merchiston Junior School and Maritzburg College, where he matriculated in 1995.
After matriculating, Flemington said he wanted to follow in his grandfather’s and father’s footsteps by flying for the South Africa Air Force (SAAF). His application, however, was turned down in 1995.
“It was a year after the elections and I guess they did not take me because of the politics,” he said.
In 1996, Flemington moved to New Zealand with his father and studied aviation at Massey University where he also qualified as a pilot and flying instructor.
His passion, however, was to fly military planes, but Flemington was also initially rejected by the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF). “I was also initially refused in New Zealand on grounds of residency before finally being accepted into the RNZAF in 2001,” he said.
“I chose to travel to the UK and was ultimately successful and started in the RAF in 2002. I went through fast-jet flying training and it was whilst flying the Hawk that I decided to transfer to multi-engine aircraft,” he said.
Over the past six years, Flemington has been flying missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He said he felt honoured and humbled by the award.
Flemington said his family was also filled with pride. His father, Blake, a former SAA pilot, is particularly proud.
“My family are obviously very proud,” he said, “but I think they are more happy that I am home safe and well.”