Former RAF pilot gunned down by south Armagh IRA expresses ‘respect’ for attackers

January 11, 2016

A former RAF pilot whose helicopter was shot down by the IRA during a rocket and gun attack in the 1970s has spoken of his respect for the “professionalism and belief” of the IRA men involved in the attack.

Speaking to Stephen Nolan on BBC Radio Ulster recently, Mike Johnston revealed how he escaped injury after the helicopter he was piloting was hit by an RPG missile as it came into land in Crossmaglen.  The missile attack was followed by a “minor gun battle” and, although no-one was killed in the incident, the former RAF pilot said the trauma of being hit by a missile remained with him for many years, even though he did not believe he suffered post traumatic stress disorder as a result.

Mr Johnston revealed that he has returned to Crossmaglen in an attempt to find the person who carried out the rocket attack and said he has “the greatest respect” for those who orchestrated and carried it out.

He also wrote to the Deputy First Minister, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness for help in his search and visited Stormont along with his wife where he had “a very interesting and long conversation” with Mr McGuinness, describing him as “very honest and sincere”.

He said the Deputy First Minister told him he did not have “the connections” to find the individuals who were involved in the attack.

The former pilot told listeners he did meet an ex-IRA man in south Armagh, who he referred to as ‘Mr Moran’. He described the conversation with him as “very honest and understanding from both points of view” and said it had been a “very rewarding experience.”

Mr Johnston added that even though he would still like to meet the IRA members involved in the attack, exposing them to the risk of prosecution “would be unfair.”

“For the individuals that honestly believed that what they were doing was right I have the greatest respect for them,” he said as he stressed his support for the peace process and the need for honesty.