The Lakeland man who has brought the Falklands conflict to life

PUBLISHED: 16:43 16 August 2011 | UPDATED: 19:51 20 February 2013

Richard and his wife, Lorraine

Richard and his wife, Lorraine

The Falklands conflict happened almost 30 years ago but one man in the Lakes has brought it to life. Words and pictures by Mark Gilligan

I recently watched in awe as one skilful pilot manoeuvred his helicopter under adversity. We were told that the passengers were SAS operatives and their secret mission was to be deployed onto enemy territory.

Viewed by those in the know as a suicide mission, they had to take out the threat of Exocet missiles then cross the enemy mainland and wait in safe houses. The skill of the pilot was awe inspiring. He guided the Sea King Helicopter to its destination completely under the cover of darkness, speeding and skimming across the waves at such low altitude then landed without being detected. However, with insufficient fuel left for a safe return, what now?

Watching this unfold, my decision was easy. I leant over to my youngest son, Rob, told him to pause the computer game and said: Lets have a brew!

Lieutenant Richard Hutchings had no such luxury - his experience in the field was very real. At the time of the Falklands War, he was a Royal Marines pilot, an integral partm of a small specialist group who would surreptitiously take SAS and SBS teams onto the islands during May 1982.

My job was to safely deploy those teams so they could recce and, sometimes, engage in the secret side prior to the actual theatre of war. In order to navigate at night, we were using the newly developed night vision goggles. I literally worked for three months in a phosphor green world. It was ground breaking and difficult but it had to be done!

Most of us have one or two moments in our lives, highlights we can recount. But Richards life has seen him experience more than most. To encapsulate it all into one short article is tough.

How many can say they have been on the run in wartime, captured and questioned, paraded before the worlds press, had your helicopter buried by Chilean forces or become an integral part of the Empire Test Pilot School? Then, there is the small matter of helping to develop a flight simulator that was constructed by NASA, becoming a military advisor to the late Alan Clark when he was junior army minister and finding time to become a successful author.

Theres nothing run-of-the-mill about Richard Hutchings. Yet the man with this extraordinary background is quiet, unassuming and captivating company.

Nine years ago, I was working as a civilian trainer for the military and was head hunted by the nuclear industry to come up as the training and development officer for the Sellafield and Risley sites. My wife, Lorraine, was still living in Wiltshire, as our daughter was still at school.

Theyd come up at weekends and we fell in love with this area. We are proud to call Eskdale Green our home. It was always my intention to retire at 55 but the decision was made for me.

Ill health intervened in the form of three heart attacks and a stroke, putting paid to his normal working life.

It was a time to reflect, he said. When I was 12, Id won a national writing competition - 30 and a years supply of chocolate was a great prize! Now, as a result of my health, I had to do something less taxing and writing seemed obvious.

The SAS released an account of Operations Mikado and Plum Duff into the public domain and this gave Richard the green light to tell his inspiring story.

Recall is not an issue to him as he has a photographic memory along with his flight logs but laughs: Dont ask me what I did yesterday!

We often hear the word unique but Richard is just that and the accurate account of his time in 1982 begat the book Special Forces Pilot which to date has sold over 31,000 copies - a remarkable feat for a military memoir.

So whats next? I have a new novel at the publishers and Im working with award winning documentary maker Michael Bilton on a programme being made for transmission next year, on the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War. And there is a book on that too.

It seems nothing can clip Richards wings.

Fact and fiction

As a Commando helicopter pilot, Colonel Richard Hutchings served with 846 Naval Air Squadron in the Falklands War and received the Distinguished Service Cross.

In his book published by Pen and Sword in 2008, Richard re-lives his part in operations, in particular Special Forces intelligence gathering, including the raid on the airfield at Pebble Island.

Events are described in detail including the development of pioneering night operations and the conduct of covert and several sensitive missions. The book included previously undisclosed material relating to Operation MIKADO, the ill-fated Special Forces mission to destroy Argentine attack planes.

It went disastrously wrong and Richard was Captain of the Sea King had to be abandoned in Chile. Richard recalls his encounter with the Chilean authorities, meetings with British Embassy officials in Santiago, the international press conference, his eventual repatriation to the UK, debriefings in the MoD and time spent in an MI6 safe-house.

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