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Flying high.. the hero squaddie blinded in Basra; EXCLUSIVE CRAIG ENJOYS HIS OWN TOP GUN MOMENT.


THE last time Craig Lundberg felt an adrenaline rush like this, he was in the middle of a fierce firefight in Iraq.

It was a fight that left him close to death - and robbed him of his sight.

But this time, that same thirst for adventure that drew him to the Army in the first place found him taking his first flying lesson over his home city of Liverpool.

Craig, 22, says: "It's every lad's dream to be a fighter pilot and fly Harriers. I never thought I would get the opportunity to learn to fly - especially now I am blind.

"It took me right back to the night I got hit in Iraq. We set off in helicopters and being in the plane brought all the old feelings of adrenaline and excitement rushing back.

"It was the first time I'd felt like that since that night - my stomach going like on a rollercoaster."

Less than a year ago, Craig was leading his platoon on a reconnaissance mission to tackle suspected insurgents in Basra city.

But the brave soldier was left fighting for his life after he was hit in the chest by a rocketpropelled grenade during a fierce rooftop firefight.

The fact that he survived the ordeal at all has amazed his doctors. And now the way he has coped with his injuries and the devastating knowledge he'll never see again has won him the admiration of the nation.

Craig says: "One day I was out shopping when this chap came up to me and said: 'How do you fancy learning to fly?' I said yes straight away - how could I refuse? My favourite film is Top Gun!"

The chap was Alan Whalley, owner of Mersey Flight flying school at Liverpool Airport.

"I recognised Craig so I went up and introduced myself and asked him if he wanted to fly," says Alan.

"He is such an inspirational young man and is open to all sorts of new ideas. He is not going to let being blind slow him down."

Craig took to the skies alongside instructor Neil Hazlehurst in a Cessna 150 light aircraft. Neil took the plane upwards from the runway before handing the controls to Craig as they soared over the Mersey estuary.

Craig was so confident at the controls that pilot Neil let him help land the plane - almost unheard of for a first-time pilot.

Exhilarated Craig says: "I have had some amazing opportunities since I came back from Iraq and the Mirror told my story - but this has got to be the best. I could feel everything through my hands.

"I started to get the same light-headedness as I did in the choppers in the Army.

"It sounds mad to say this now, because that was the night I got blown up, but I still remember the amazing buzz I felt when we set off on that recce."

Now Craig says: "I just can't believe I have flown a plane - and it was pretty easy really. I know I can't see the dials and the instruments, but I can feel the sensitivity of the steering and power with my hands and feet.

"I suppose I am a thrill-seeker - that's why I joined the Army. I didn't want a job where I sat behind a desk or packed boxes in a factory. I wanted the buzz, the excitement.

"Now I have those talking books and I am reading Richard Hammond's story.

"When he talks about the adrenaline of Top Gear, I can really understand where he is coming from.

"He also talks about after his crash and how he felt guilty for putting all his family through so much worry and pain.

"I understand that now. I joined the Army and went to Iraq for my own thrill-seeking.

"I didn't stop to think about the pain I was putting everyone through at home.

"But just because I am blind now doesn't mean I am going to stop trying new things. "

Afterwards Alan was stounded at how well Craig had done. He says: "He was extraordinary, a really incredible young man.

"I know he will never be able to get his pilot's licence and fly a plane solo, but I think he will make an excellent second pilot."

And the good news is the sky really can be the limit for blind fliers.

Last spring, totally blind Brit Miles Hilton-Barber flew a microlight aircraft with a sighted co-pilot from London to Sydney, a 13,500 mile journey that took him 56 days.

Craig knows his career in the Army is most probably over, but he has plans.

He says: "I'll get a job and it will be a good one. I understand now that I have to basically start again.

"And this may have been my first flying lesson, but it won't be my last."


THRILLS: Flying the Cessna over Liverpool; TOUCH: Craig at the plane's controls; COURAGE: Our story in November last year; FIGHTER: Craig in his army days; TRIUMPH: Craig is elated after his flight Pictures: PHIL SPENCER
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 8, 2008
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