A soldier who defied doctors’ odds by surviving a horrific plane crash with 63% burns is helping injured war veterans push the limits of their disabilities as a scuba diving instructor thanks to support from Help for Heroes.
Jamie Hull, 41, from Hertfordshire, a former private in the Parachute Regiment, survived life-changing injuries when he was involved in an air crash in 2007 while training for his private pilot’s licence.
During the long road to recovery, he endured 58 major operations and battled severe depression.
He says scuba diving gave him the means of fighting back against his horrific injuries - and is now honoured to be helping other wounded soldiers to do the same.
Jamie is now a fully qualified diving instructor with the Army Sub Aqua Diving Association (ASADA), a BSAC special branch, on the Help for Heroes-funded Sports Recovery programme.
The programme runs twice yearly diving expeditions to the island of Gozo in Malta to train ex-servicemen and women to scuba dive.
“Diving is at the forefront of what I do now and believe in,” said Jamie, as he returned from his latest mission with the programme.
“Considering where I was physically and mentally post injury in comparison to where I am now as a result of pushing the boundaries, it has helped me enormously.
“I was going through a long and gruesome recovery in the early years and diving provided me with a tool to fight back.
“I’m in a much stronger place because of my efforts going back into the world of recreational diving. It did a lot to uplift me mentally.
“From my experience there’s no better way to help yourself than to help others and that’s what I’ve set out to do.”
Jamie, a qualified mountain leader who runs global military-style expeditions in addition to teaching diving, joined the Army on the completion of a degree in Scandinavian Studies from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, at the age of 24. Throughout his studies, he was attached to the Cambridge University Officer Training Corps, where he gained a commission as an Army Reservist at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS) in Surrey, in 2003.
Before his accident, Jamie had served across the world in his seven-year career with the Army.
He had been flying 1,000 feet above Ormond Beach airfield in Florida in 2007 when the engine of the Liberty XL2 two-seater plane he was piloting caught fire, sweeping through the cockpit. Amazingly, he managed to level the aircraft 15ft above the ground before climbing onto the left wing and leaping out.
He suffered more than 60% burns and his chances of survival were slim but he battled his way through a six-month coma and numerous operations and reconstructive surgery to give himself the best shot of a normal life.
“I started to test myself and push my limitations,” he said.
“I realised I could still do things despite having 60%, third degree burns. That’s a large number in terms of trauma and coming back from that is no mean feat. It was extremely difficult and impossible to describe, it was horrific. The early years were tough.
“I knew diving from old and I wanted to try it again. I thought if I can do this again then I would like to use the skills in earnest and help others.
“Scuba diving is a huge rehabilitation tool. It’s an extremely powerful medium in sport rehab.
“It isn’t easy, it requires a degree of physical prowess and yet I’ve seen paraplegics and triple amputees be able to pull this off and I think it’s marvellous.
“When you’re working against the resistance of water and increased pressure at depth it magnifies the benefits of being on the surface of the water while swimming. It’s a wonderful tool for anyone who has a physical vulnerability.”
So far, 18 diving expeditions have been organised in collaboration between Help for Heroes and BSAC’s ASADA branch, resulting in 80 qualifications.
Jamie has taken part in six expeditions so far and sees his role as central to his future.
“Diving is a way of breaking down those anxiety barriers and through this it enhances individual confidence. It benefits their recovery and I see it time and time again,” he said.
“These guys have been through the mill and have benefitted immensely. I see a huge transition in their confidence every time.
“I probably have the ability to inspire them. I have come from a strong military background and have been through a tough time myself. I’m in much better shape now than ever before. For someone like myself to deliver this kind of training is quite powerful which is why I do what I do.
“Life is good again. I’m strong and getting on with life. I’ve achieved more than I ever thought I could.”