By Ian Marshall
The French surgeons who put Lee Crudgington back together again after his horrific parachuting accident in southern France early last July didn’t hold out much hope of his survival but Lee Crudgington’s will to live beat the odds. Surgeons and specialists came from far and wide to see the patient they considered a medical marvel. Ian Marshall, the legendary Red Devil widely seen as the World’s number one military parachutist, recounts this story for Hermes, a story of British Airborne spirit, comradeship and family.
THE PARA WHO WOULDN’T DIE…
By Ian Marshall
After a social media plea was announced to help bring home a ‘very seriously injured’ paratrooper from southern France, The Parachute Regiment released the following statement on August 2nd 2022:
“We are delighted to report that L/Cpl Lee Crudgington is now safely back in the UK and being looked after by a specialist trauma team in London. He has a long road ahead of him, including having his pelvis reset and a number of procedures on his legs before he can start his rehabilitation, but we are very pleased that this can all be done back home in the UK.”.
Lee will have to undergo further surgery and a long period of rehabilitation. The Airborne Family is providing support to the Crudgington family via Support Our Paras — as the official Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces Charity is popularly known.
Colonel (Ret’d) Andrew Jackson, CEO of Save Our Paras, told Hermes: “‘I am proud that Support Our Paras stepped in to fund the cost of Lee’s medical care in France and his subsequent aeromedical evacuation back to UK as soon as it became clear that neither the MOD or his insurance company were able to do so.
“It was entirely right that we did so; Lee is a paratrooper, one of our own, and looking after our own is exactly what this charity is here to do, no matter what problems befall them in life. We are hugely grateful to the wider Airborne family who have got behind us so fantastically in this effort too, and they showed such amazing generosity for just that very same reason – he is one of their own too.
“It will be a long road back to full health for Lee now but we will continue to be with him and there for him and his family on every stage of that journey, wherever it might lead them.”.
A member of The Parachute Regiment’s elite Red Devils display team, Lance Corporal Lee Crudgington of 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment was seriously injured whilst engaging in speed flying — a discipline requiring high skill levels — in southern France on July 2nd 2022. Lee was rushed to the intensive care facility in the Grenoble Alpes University Hospital.
He required an urgent twelve-hour operation to stabilise his injuries, which included a ruptured aorta – the main artery that heart carries blood away from the heart to the rest of the body. Lee also needed further major surgery to a badly damaged pelvis before doctors could decide when he was well enough to be transferred back to the UK.
French consultant surgeons who carried out the initial heart operation that saved Lee’s life, followed by the intricate reconstruction of his pelvis, are reported as saying that “his guardian angel deserves a pay rise” and other remarks to that effect. The surgeons have also been bringing their colleagues and students to see the British paratrooper they regard as a living miracle.
Lee joined the Red Devils Army Parachute Display Team in 2011 and is an experienced skydiver with more than 5,000 jumps. He is known for performing spectacular stunts. Speed flying is a hybrid variant of BASE jumping and skydiving that involves flying small, very high performance ram-air canopies with significant wing loadings — which generate the forward speed — to descend mountain slopes or to fly in close proximity to rugged terrain at speeds of up to 100mph, often in remote locations.
Although on official leave, Lee was ‘off duty’ at the time of his accident and the circumstances, therefore, did not meet the criteria for Ministry of Defence-funded repatriation. As well the mounting medical costs incurred, which are significant, Lee’s repatriation from France required a special aero-medical team.
The Crudgingtons had what they believed to be adequate insurance cover but, as it seems to have turned out, this was not the case. Whilst Section V of the Crudgington’s policy covering Hazardous Activities suggests buyers of this insurance are covered for such activities, their insurers pointed out that they had not, in fact, paid the additional premiums mentioned in the small print.
This is yet another instance of service personnel being caught-out with inadequate or no insurance cover. Shortly after being appointed as Red Devil’s Team Leader in 2018, Sgt Tom Blakey was injured in a skydiving accident in Kenya. The personal accident insurance cover he had taken out did not cover medical fees and repatriation costs and Sgt Blakey had to raise £19,000 through crowd-funding.
The Crudgingtons are in a similar position. After flying Lee home to the United Kingdom, Support Our Paras has set up a crowd-funding appeal because those costs need to be covered, along with other costs relating to Lee Crudgington’s rehabilitation and convalesence. He signed a blank cheque to his nation when he joined the armed forces and now he needs a bit of help with that blank cheque in view of the Ministry of Defence’s inability to cover him.