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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 February 2007, 13:39 GMT
Helicopter rescue marines hailed
Lance Corporal Mathew Ford
L/Cpl Mathew Ford died leading his section in an assault
Royal Marines involved in a daring rescue mission in Afghanistan have been hailed for their actions.

L/Cpl Mathew Ford, of 45 Commando Royal Marines, went missing after an attack on a Taleban fort in Helmand.

Four colleagues strapped themselves to the outside of two Apache helicopters and headed back to the scene - only to discover he was dead.

North Yorks-based pilots involved in the mission said the Marines were "extremely brave and courageous".

One of the pilots from 656 Squadron 9 Regiment Army Air Corps based at RAF Dishforth said it was feared L/Cpl Ford would be "paraded" on TV by the Taleban.

To do what they did on the day, you cannot underestimate both the courage and bravery
Commanding officer 656 Squadron

The officer commanding 656 Squadron, who did not wish to be identified, described the mission as "an extremist option".

"My initial reaction was one of great pride. To do what they did on the day, you cannot underestimate both the courage and bravery not only of our crews but of the Royal Marines. They all did a first-class job."

L/Cpl Ford, 30, was shot as he led his section in a 200-soldier assault on the fort outside Garmsir on 15 January.

On hearing he could still be alive, the Apache crews and Royal Marines flew back into hostile territory.

According to the Ministry of Defence, the Apache helicopter can only carry a pilot and a gunner but there are attachments on the wings for personnel to harness themselves to in emergencies.

Apache attack helicopter
Design: Based on US AH-64D Apache
Built: In US and UK by Westland
Weapons: 30mm automatic cannon, 70mm aerial rockets, Hellfire missiles
Crew: Pilot and co-pilot/gunner
Range: 170km/106 miles
Engines: Rolls Royce RTM 322 Mk 120
Length: 14.5m

A third Apache helicopter and other units provided covering fire, as the rescue bid got under way.

The helicopters landed in the fort and located L/Cpl Ford's body, which they then strapped to the Apache.

L/Cpl Ford had died but the men retrieved his body.

"It was all very, very surreal having men strapped to the side of the vehicle," said Staff Sgt Carl Bird, 39.

"I knew that they were there but it was difficult to see them with all the dust flying about."

A 35-year-old staff sergeant, who did not want to be identified, said the Marines "were extremely brave and courageous".

He said spotted L/Cpl Ford from the air and leapt out of the Apache after landing inside the fort and led the marines to the area.

"We were still convinced he was alive and we made our way to where we thought he was.

"We grabbed hold of Mathew Ford believing he was still alive," he said.

"What was utmost in my mind was that we didn't want him to fall into the hands of the Taleban.

"We'd seen people on TV being paraded as prisoners and we didn't want that to happen to one of ours."

Footage of the daring rescue

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