Multiple Airmen Down Behind Enemy Lines, Daring Rescue Operation Launched

 October 23, 2023

In July 2021, a French Dassault Mirage 2000 Fighter Jet crashed into the Sahara Desert in Northern Mali. Although the aircrafts two crewmen safely ejected, there was the possibility that both would be captured by enemy forces and so an immediate rescue operation involving British and French forces was initiated.

The display of valiant international cooperation can be witnessed in the remarkable rescue. This operation epitomizes the dedication, resilience, and excellent interoperability between the British Royal Air Force and French military forces, in a race against time to save two downed French airmen following a grave in-flight malfunction.

Prelude to a Heroic Mission

The narrative unfolds on July 18, 2018, when three British Chinook helicopters, dispatched from RAF Odiham in the UK, were deployed to Mali following a request by the French government.

Integrated into the French chain of command as 1310 Flight, these helicopters significantly bolstered the French counter-insurgency operations in northern Mali by providing a heavy lift capability.

Their impact was profound, with 30 successful missions completed by September 2018, transporting over 700 French troops and conveying over 70 tons of essential equipment.

The officer commanding 18 Squadron RAF, Wing Commander Matthew Roberts, extolled the Chinook Mark 5's capability to significantly enhance the in-theatre maneuverability of the French forces.

A Dramatic Turn of Events

Fast-forward to July 20, 2021, a day marked by adversity yet culminating in a triumph of collective resolve.

On this fateful day, two French airmen found themselves stranded in a perilous region near Burkina Faso's border, following a catastrophic malfunction on their Mirage 2000 fighter jet.

The urgency of their plight was exacerbated by the region being a known insurgent hotbed, making the need for a swift rescue paramount. This triggered a joint British-French rescue operation, engaging two British Chinooks and two French Tiger helicopters.

The British Chinooks, each carrying around 30 French commandos, swiftly flew out from Gao Air Base to the crash site.


The Embodiment of Resilience and Cooperation

The ensuing operation saw the French commandos secure the crash site area, enabling the safe evacuation of the two airmen back to Gao Air Base.

One of the airmen, who sustained injuries during the ejection, received immediate medical attention. The mission did not end there; the Chinooks returned to the crash site with French explosive disposal experts and accident investigators to examine the wreckage and ascertain the cause of the mishap.

This mission's success underscored the enduring camaraderie between the British and French militaries. As Chinook pilot Squadron Leader Charlie Brown aptly noted, their full integration into the French aviation unit in Mali facilitated a prompt and effective response, demonstrating the exemplary interoperability developed with their French counterparts.

This operation not only illuminates the indomitable spirit of our military and first responders but also accentuates the significance of international cooperation in addressing adversities. Through shared valor and unwavering commitment, the skies of Mali bore witness to a remarkable saga of heroism, forging a stronger bond between these two partner nations.

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