A FORMER Royal Marine from South Tyneside has been selected to take part in a record flying attempt.
Jason Burns is one of eight wounded and injured servicemen and veterans set to take part in the challenge.
Organised by Flying For Heroes, in association with Help For Heroes, the group will undergo a rigorous flight training and education programme before attempting the 1,000km (620-mile) journey from Mount Kilimanjaro to Mount Kenya.
Jason, who lives in South Shields, was injured in Afghanistan.
He was serving in Operation Herrick 14, in September 2011, in Lashkar Gah, when his soldiering career came to an end.
At the sound of a mortar call, Jason began putting on his protective clothing, but slipped on roller-track flooring and landed on a chair, hurting his back.
Chronic lower back pain and depression – later diagnosed as severe post-traumatic stress disorder – forced the 44-year-old to give up his career, having been a Warrant Officer in the Royal Marines.
But ever since his wife, Andrea, made contact with Help For Heroes through Twitter, the couple and their children, Georgia, 14, Ethan, 11, and Grace, six, have received support from the armed forces charity’s northern recovery centre, Phoenix House, in Catterick, North Yorkshire.
Now Jason, whose disability has resulted in him needing a wheelchair, not only has a world-first flight to look forward to, but is keeping his fingers crossed that the international pilot training scheme that he undertakes in order to do it will help him get a job afterwards.
He said: “After my injury, I thought I would never work again, but this opportunity has given me hope that maybe there is a role for me out there.”
The Rift Valley Challenge, which will see the Flying For Heroes team traverse impressive and challenging landscapes, including deserts, lakes, savannah, jungle, rivers and mountains, takes place this September, and will raise money for Help For Heroes, which supports injured servicemen and women.
In order to be awarded a place on the team, Jason had to submit reasons why he should be selected. He was then one of 14 invited for an interview.
He said: “I heard about Flying For Heroes, and it just appealed to me.
“I have always had a fascination for planes, although my experience of them has been jumping out of them holding my military parachute wing, as opposed to flying them.
“Since being injured, my whole life has changed. My disabilities have made it hard to interact as I used to, and the effect this has had on me mentally is indescribable.
“However, through Help For Heroes and Phoenix House Recovery Centre, things are slowly turning around for me and my family.
“This adventure will be my way of raising money for the charity and giving something back for all it has done for us.
“The prospect of flying a paratrike has given me a buzz – something I have not experienced for well over two years.
“It is a privilege and an honour to be chosen to represent Flying For Heroes, and I am really looking forward to being part of a team again for the first time since being discharged.”
Jason met his fellow fliers for the first time last weekend, and had his photo taken with Top Gear presenters Richard Hammond, James May and Jeremy Clarkson, when he travelled down to the Breitling Air Show, in Oxfordshire.
Next month, he heads to Spain for his training, which will be delivered by Flying For Heroes founder and expedition leader Neil Laughton, and flying instructor Alex Ledger.
To donate to the team, go to www.bmycharity.com/flyingforheroes or for more information, www.flyingforheroes.org.uk