Paralympics Broadcaster and Veteran Reunites with Pilot Who Flew Him Home Injured from Afghanistan

"I burst into tears," JJ Chalmers said when he learned that the pilot flying him to the Tokyo Paralympics was the same pilot who flew him home from Afghanistan

JJ Chalmers Paralympics Broadcaster Reunited with Pilot Who Saved His Life
Photo: JJ Chalmers/Twitter

Lance Corporal John James Chalmers was surprised with the ultimate reunion on his way to this year's Tokyo Games.

Chalmers, known as JJ, booked a gig as a presenter for BBC Radio 5 Live in the U.K. and is among the few to travel to Japan amid the COVID pandemic as international spectators are barred from attending events in person. The former Strictly Come Dancing contestant, 34, is a winner of multiple non-amputee cycling medals himself, having previously competed in Prince Harry's Invictus Games, which — similar to the Paralympics — is an international sporting event for wounded, injured and ill servicepersons including veterans.

Chalmers was severely injured in a bomb blast in Afghanistan in May 2011 when he was serving in the Royal Marine Commando and was airlifted home to the U.K. in an induced coma.

Ten years later, on his recent flight to Tokyo, Chalmers was unexpectedly reunited with the pilot who helped fly him out of Afghanistan.

"This is David Ellis he just flew me out to Tokyo for the #Paralympics. But, it's not the first time I've been on one of his flights. Incredibly he flew me home, unconscious on a hospital plane, when I was wounded in Afghanistan. Unreal!" Chalmers shared on Twitter, along with a selfie of himself and pilot Ellis.

"It was an honour to meet you Sir," the broadcaster added.

Ellis later tweeted, "And I've just got back to the U.K.! It was such a pleasure flying you again under very different circumstances! What a coincidence! I'm so glad I checked my logbook! Enjoy the #Paralympics and I hope we can have a beer sometime (when I'm not flying you about!)"

Later speaking to BBC about the chance encounter, Chalmers explained that a stewardess on his flight told him that Ellis had recognized his name on the airline's list of passengers.

"[The flight attendant] said: 'Our pilot actually flew you back from Afghanistan, flew you back into the U.K. when you were injured 10 years ago, and he's noticed that and he'd like you to come this way, he's going to take the plane off and then he's going to come and have a word with you,' " Chalmers shared.

"And I burst into tears, that was my reaction to that," he added.

According to the BBC presenter, Ellis had "googled" Chalmers' name and came across an article that listed the date Chalmers was injured in Afghanistan.

"We were able to just talk like two veterans and it was really nice to, you know, pass the time talking to someone that sort of had a familiar background to what I did," Chalmers said.

Repeating what he told Ellis after arriving in Tokyo, Chalmers echoed, "I owe something that I'll never be able to repay to you, I'm unbelievably grateful for what you did for me — thank you — and in fairness his response was just perfect it was: 'We all had a job to do, that's what you did, that's what I did, that's what we all did.' "

In a similar interview with USA Today, Chalmers said he was emotional after Ellis reintroduced himself by saying, "Hello, JJ. Nice to meet you again."

The surprise reunion was even more meaningful for Chalmers because of where Ellis was flying him. "I'm extremely proud to be part of the Paralympic movement and to have a disability and I suppose champion to try and change people's perceptions of what it means to have a disability and the aspirations you can still have," he shared.

To learn more about all the Paralympic hopefuls, visit The Tokyo Paralympics air on NBC until September 5.

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