A BRAVE soldier injured in the line of duty is swapping South Tyneside for the South Pole to take to the skies for a history-making journey.
Private Nathan Forster, 25 from Brockley Whins, South Shields, who has served with the Parachute Regiment for four years, is one of seven forces’ heroes clambering into the cockpit for a 3,000-mile mission to the Antarctic in a microlight.
The record-breaking expedition to the South Pole, which has never been attempted before, will take place in 2014 after the team have completed their pilot’s and cold weather training.
Pte Forster can’t wait to write his name in the history books after coming within milimetres of being paralysed in a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan.
Pte Forster said; “I was injured on February 16, 2011, while on a tour of Afghanistan. We came under attack by the Taliban and I got shrapnel from an explosion in my left leg, which took out a lot of my calf.
“I also got shrapnel in my back. I was told it missed my spine by 3mm. If it had hit, I would have been paralysed.
“I do feel lucky, it could’ve been a lot worse. I did a lot of rehab. I was in a wheelchair at first and on crutches for a year, but the leg is a lot better now.
“I get medically discharged from the regiment in May but I’m looking forward to taking on a lot more opportunities.
“We are training regularly for the trip and will be going to Turkey and doing cold weather training in Norway.”
The challenge, called Flying for Freedom, is in aid of Help for Heroes and aims to raise vital funds to improve recovery programmes for injured and disabled servicemen and women.
Pte Forster added: “I would say it is very challenging but achievable.
“You are totally exposed to the elements. I used to do a lot of physical activity, like rugby and climbing, and I couldn’t do that when I was injured.
“Now flying has given me a new passion, something to look forward to, which I can hopefully do for a long time.
“It will be physically challenging, and mentally, but enjoyable, and hopefully we’ll break some world records. It’s a great team I’m going with and I’m sure we’ll build up a bond.”
The polar aero trek, which could take months to complete, will involve a round trip flight of 2,400 miles, flying at cruising altitudes of up to 10,000ft in temperatures which will plunge to as low as -30 degrees.
The project will also attempt to achieve three world firsts: the first flexible wing flight in Antarctica, first over the South Pole and first over Mount Vinson, which at 16,050ft is the highest peak on the Antarctic continent.
With a microlight pilot’s license achievable with 25 hours of training, allowing of the soldiers to get fully equipped for the challenge ahead.
They will each take turns in the microlight, flying solo legs of the journey before passing on the baton to their colleague.
The magnificent seven have all been part of the Flying for Freedom legacy project, which trains wounded soldiers to fly, with them in turn also training other soldiers to take flight.
After taking part in the scheme, the seven were chosen to take part in the South Pole trek.
Lord Digby Jones, Patron of Flying for Freedom, joined the squad at the expedition launch at the Tower of London to pay tribute to their bravery in tackling the task and giving fresh hope to all injured and disabled military personnel.
The trip is part of a wider programme being undertaken by Flying for Freedom to establish a number of recovery centres around the UK for injured and disabled servicemen and women.
Lord Digby Jones said: “The challenge and the thrill of learning to fly has been shown to boost the recoveries of those who have suffered injuries or disabilities.
“Flying for Freedom aims to bring this benefit to many servicemen and women, aiding their recovery and also teaching them a new skill which could help them when they leave the Armed Forces.”
Flying for Freedom is seeking to raise sponsorship funds of £1.2m to launch the full Flying for Freedom project and mount the expedition. For more details, visit www.fly2pole.com