The comrades of a Royal Marine who was killed in action in Afghanistan strapped themselves to the wings of Apache helicopters in a dramatic mission to rescue him, the Ministry of Defence revealed last night.
Lance Corporal Mathew Ford of 45 Commando Royal Marines died on Monday as marines attacked a major Taliban fort to the south of Garmsir in southern Helmand province.
He was part of a 200-strong force involved in the dawn assault on the Jugroom Fort which had been a surveillance target for more than two months.
The 30-year-old section commander was killed by fierce Taliban fire when his unit disembarked from their armoured vehicles to attack the high-walled fort.
When the marines fell back to regroup, they realised L/Cpl Ford was missing and hatched the dramatic rescue bid.
Four soldiers were strapped to the small side "wings" of two Apaches, while a third Apache and other units provided covering fire.
The helicopters landed inside and outside the wall of the fort and the soldiers and aircrew recovered L/Cpl Ford, the MoD said.
UK Task Force spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Rory Bruce said the heroic mission was a "leap into the unknown".
"This is believed to be the first time UK forces have ever tried this type of rescue mission," he said.
"It was an extraordinary tale of heroism and bravery of our airmen, soldiers and marines who were all prepared to put themselves back into the line of fire to rescue a fallen comrade.
"And it was with great sadness they later found their brother-in-arms had been killed in action."
L/Cpl Ford was the only fatality sustained by the UK Task Force during the battle, but there were four casualties who are in a stable condition.
The oldest of three brothers, L/Cpl Ford was brought up in Immingham, Lincolnshire, where his mother and stepfather still live. He shared a flat in Dundee with his fiancee Ina.
His mother Joan said: "We are all devastated by the news of Mathew's death. He was a larger than life character who lived his life to the full.
"He was a wonderful son to me and brother to Thomas and Scott and was looking forward to his future with Ina. His love for life and his ability to make everyone laugh will always be with us."
L/Cpl Ford joined the Royal Marines in 2001. After training in Lympstone, Devon, where he earned the coveted Green Beret, he joined 1 Assault Group Royal Marines in Poole.
He completed military driver training and also trained as a heavy weapons specialist before joining 45 Commando in Arbroath, Scotland, in 2004. He was sent to Afghanistan last year with Zulu Company for Operation Herrick 5.
Described as a "gentle giant", he was thinking about leaving the service to settle down and have a family, the MoD said.
The commander of the UK Task Force, Brigadier Jerry Thomas, said: "I know that this is a very difficult time for his family and his friends, but I do want to convey my sincere condolences and let them know that our thoughts are very much with them."
L/Cpl Ford's commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Duncan Dewar RM said the serviceman's "professionalism, reliability, and selflessness as well as his sharp wit marked him out from the crowd".
He said: "He was an excellent Royal Marine and promising Junior Commander who died doing the job he loved and will be sorely missed by all his friends in 45 Commando."
Defence Secretary Des Browne said: "The death of Lance Corporal Mathew Ford in Afghanistan yesterday is tragic news and my thoughts and my sympathy are with his friends and family at this sad time.
"I understand Lance Corporal Ford was on an important operation against the Taliban, and he was making a vital contribution both to defending our country and the people of Afghanistan."Reuse content