16/01/2012 Inside Out Yorkshire and Lincolnshire


16/01/2012

A British veteran of the Falklands War prepares to meet the Argentinian pilot with whom he fought in the conflict.


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Welcome to Inside Out, for a special programme of the Falklands

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It is nearly 30 years since 255 British servicemen and women lost

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their lives in the Falklands War. Back then, at a Braille navy gunner

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was hailed as a hero, after shooting down a top fighter pilot.

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-- a Royal Navy. Nicola has uncovered an extraordinary story of

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international friendship that was born in battle. 8,000 miles away,

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in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean, lie the Falkland Islands.

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Just 3,000 people live in this remote British outpost, and it was

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a determination to preserve their unique way of life that led to a

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bitter war taking place here in More than 900 men were killed when

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Argentina invaded the Falklands. Thousands of personal stories of

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bravery and survival came out of the war, but to this day, one of

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the most extraordinary has never I fired at 10, hit the aircraft, a

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lot of smoke came out. I feel the impact. For 25 years, Royal Navy

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gunner Neil Wilkinson believed he had killed the pilot of an

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Argentine fighter jet. I thought "he is dead". But in 2007, Neil

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discovered he had survived, and now, three decades on, the two former

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enemies are about to meet for the first time. Neil's story starts

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here in Portsmouth, back in April 1982. When Argentina invaded the

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Falkland Islands, a British Naval taskforce was rapidly deployed from

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here. Neil was 22-years-old at the time and his ship was on its way to

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The Government has now decided that a large taskforce will sell as soon

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as all preparations are complete. HMS Invincible will be in their

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lead. It will leave port on a Monday. I was a young able seaman

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who'd joined the Navy to see the world, and get paid for it. I never

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envisaged going to war at all. It was something that, you know might

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happen, but not at 22. Neil's ship was HMS Intrepid. She was being

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decommissioned in 1982, but when the war broke out, she was saved

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from Breakers Yard and made battle- ready in record time. The people

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give us a fantastic send off, there were balloons and banners and

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everything. It was a lovely feeling, to be on the upper deck, watching

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them. Knowing that somebody's family was there. Neil's ship

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played a key role in the Falklands War along with its sister ship, HMS

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Fearless. Together they defended the beachhead at San Carlos Bay and

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landed thousands of British troops on the islands. But it was events

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on one day in particular that had a So this is it, almost exactly as it

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was. This is the same type of gun that Neil fired from HMS Intrepid.

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Today, it's buried in a store room in Portsmouth, but seeing it has

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brought back vivid memories for Neil. This is what we call a

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spider's website. You only have a few seconds to get ready, whichever

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direction they were coming from. You would fire in front of the

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aircraft. I was the only weapon that are fired up that day on our

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ship. The aircraft came over, and I had to range in on them, and then I

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opened fire. To actually pull the trigger did not take much doing.

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After the first initial few days, it becomes second nature - you know

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what to do. There is an element of water that comes my way? What do

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you do then? Produced will have a job to do. That is what your job is

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to do - you are protecting your ship. Almost 30 years ago, Neil was

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hailed a hero for shooting down the Douglas A4 skyhawk, but the reality

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Apology for the loss of subtitles for 56 seconds

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The aircraft had just released its weapon. It then noticed that it had

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been fired at. It noticed that it had lost hydraulic pressure, and

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one of the aircraft men noticed a fire. Then, the aircraft crashed

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into a land, and the pilot safely In 1982, he was 33-years-old, and

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one of Argentina's most highly- skilled combat pilots. In fact, he

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was the pilot who launched the devastating air attack on the

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British destroyer HMS Coventry. Despite these losses, neither our

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resolve not our confidence is weekend. It was a disastrous loss

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for the British. 19 men died as the ship sank. In Argentina, Velasco

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was a hero, but his luck would soon Neil has decided the time has come

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to lay old ghosts to rest. He's about to start out on a journey

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that will change his life. There we are, sir. That is your boarding

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card. Velasco has agreed to meet him at his home in Argentina. But

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before he gets there, Neil has another important visit to make.

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He's returning to the Falkland Islands. Life on the Falklands has

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never been quite the same since 1982. Today, the islanders are

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forced to live in the shadow of the war. We've arrived on the islands

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and he's heading to the coast. This is San Carlos Bay on East Falkland

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it played a key role for the British in the war. For Neil, it

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was the heart of the battle and a place he'll never forget. We work

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in here with probably 30 other ships at the time. It was just

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horrendous. The Argentine air force gave us a welcoming but I don't

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think anybody was prepared for. the time the task force arrived,

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more than 10,000 Argentine troops were occupying the Falklands. On

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21st May, the British ships began to unload their own soldiers. They

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had to get as many men and supplies as possible onto the islands.

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Neil's ship was positioned just a few miles out from here. It played

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a key role in getting thousands of British troops onto the beaches

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here at San Carlos. But when the Argentines got wind of the landings,

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they responded with a series of fierce and relentless air attacks.

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Argentine at Sky Hawk jets came in time and again to bomb British

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ships. Back then, this whole area became known as Bomb Alley - so

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intense was the fighting that took Mind-blowing. To be here now after

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30 years The Argentine air force inflicted serious damage on the

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British fleet, but they also suffered huge losses of their own.

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On the 27th May Velasco set out from Rio Gallegos in Argentina. He

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was piloting one of four Skyhawk fighter jets on a bombing raid to

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San Carlos - where Neil's ship Intrepid was waiting. The aircraft

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attacked, and that in, I started the motor on the weapon. I fired

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off the six rounds, I hit the aircraft. A lot of smoke came out

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the back of the aircraft, and I thought, there is no way anybody

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can survive that. Mariano Velasco's squadron had

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entered the bay from the South. The first two Skyhawks dropped their

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bombs and escaped. But as Velasco flew in he was met with a barrage

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of gunfire. Neil fired into the sky and hit the

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Neil wants to know more about what happened that day. So our next stop

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is West Falkland. From the air it becomes clear just

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how desolate and remote these islands are. Velasco's plane came

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down somewhere on the other side of this channel.

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All we need to do now is figure out where.

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So we've just landed on the West Island in a place called Port

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Howard, which has a population of just 25 people. Now, luckily for us

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one of the islanders here is going to help us look for the wreckage of

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Velasco's Skyhawk. We think it's about six miles from here, so let's

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see if we can go and track it down. This is where we are, Port Howard.

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The green hill is out here... Bill was a young man when the

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Argentines invaded, but like many islanders, his memories of the war

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are still vivid. The landscape here is almost

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The Falkland Islands all his life, and he knows this area like the

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back of his hand. We did not have it any Argentinian troops there, we

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could see them coming in threes or fours. The landscape here is almost

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without features, but Bill knows this area like the back of his hand.

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That is a green hill... Another two or three miles and we will be there.

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It's been a long journey - Neil's already travelled more than 8,000

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miles from his home in Yorkshire to find out about the pilot he thought

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he'd killed. Now, as he approaches the place where Velasco's war ended,

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he's finally getting closer to the truth. It is a very strange feeling.

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Look at this. There are bits all over the place, still here. I do

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not now how we get out of it. I know it did eject, but luckily, for

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him, he did. It is just unbelievable Acton

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The last time Neil saw this aircraft was in 1982, when he

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watched it veer out of the sky followed by a plume of black smoke.

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Velasco's escape was incredible. Many other Argentine pilots weren't

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so lucky. It is a brilliant feeling, not to gloat over a crash site, and

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to say, this is what I did. The feeling inside is that, he got out

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and he did survive it. I am really pleased that he did.

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Over the last 30 years people have visited this site and removed parts

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of the wreckage as a sort of souvenir of the war. So it's

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astonishing that in 2012, so much of the aircraft remains. You can

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see the yellow paint, but they had painted on... That is the Argentine

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markings. $$NEWLINEThe Skyhawk came down with such force that even

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today a deep impact crater is clearly visible. By ejecting,

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Velasco had saved himself from certain death.

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Over the next few days Velasco would walk more than ten miles over

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some of the most brutal terrain with a badly injured ankle. The

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temperature was below freezing, the war was continuing all around him -

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so it must have been a huge relief when he finally came across this

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abandoned shepherd's lodge. It was stocked with food and fuel

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for heating, and Velasco took shelter here for several days until

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eventually help arrived. Only after Velasco was rescued from the lodge

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on the West Island would he hear about the brutal land battles that

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had taken place in the East. 500 British troops had attacked

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Argentine forces at Goose Green and Darwin.

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They were among the bloodiest days of the whole war. 17 British and 55

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Argentineans were killed during 14 Almost three decades have passed

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since the war, but Britain still maintains a large military base on

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the Falklands. Today Neil's been invited onboard

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one of the Royal Navy's support vessels. It's the first time he's

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been back on a warship since the 1980s.

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Neil can never forget the bloody battles that took place in these

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waters but he's still proud of his time in the Navy.

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$YELLOW Returning to the Falklands has been a once-in-a-lifetime

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His role was on -- his role was invaluable as a gunner on the deck.

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It has been a real pleasure having him on board. Returning to the

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Falklands has been a once in a lifetime opportunity for a meal.

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It's allowed him to come to terms with what happened in the war and

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to remember those who lost their lives.

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And a chance to discover more about Shot down. The images in my brain

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are not going to go away, but I am getting some closure. But he has

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also been an adventure. In Argentina, Neil will face his

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biggest challenge. When I come face to face with the same pilot that

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attacked that day, it will be raw emotion. As it probably is now,

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really. We have been travelling for several hours, through the car door

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but province. -- Cordoba province. Neil knows Velasco has agreed to

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meet him, but his feeling anxious about coming face-to-face with the

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man he tried to kill. We are less than three hours away, and I am

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very nervous, very apprehensive, and to be honest, I cannot tell you

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what is going through my mind. It is just awash with the different

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thoughts of how we might end up, and I do not know what the outcome

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will be when I meet him face to face. Marianna Velasco's Skyhawk

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was one of ten destroyed in the war, but some have been preserved in

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Argentina. This is just like the aircraft for Lasker was forced to

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This Skyhawk flew on many successful bombing missions against

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the British. In Argentina it's a After the war, Velasco returned to

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Argentina and went on to have a long and successful career in the

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air force, eventually rising to the position of Commodore. He still

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believes the Falkland Islands belong to Argentina.

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Today he's retired and lives with his family in a small rural village

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in the mountains. Now, finally, Neil is about to meet him. So you I

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am going to leave you now to make these final few steps on your own.

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Good luck. Thank you. This is brilliant. You on your own. Thank

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you. Hello. Hello. Welcome to my house. Thank you. It is an honour.

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Neil's waited a long time for this moment - and now that it's here the

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relief is overwhelming. It is to massive to put into words. I do not

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know what to say. I am just so happy, really, that you brought me

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here. And I have here. At his house. The compass... This is the moment I

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reject. -- This is the moment I inject. Along time has passed, and

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wins have had time to heal. Unbelievable. I almost said that

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when you came over, it was a round I have been t a crash site. It is

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in many pieces. Too big to carry to you! For this time, I have had the

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build up, the build up, and not knowing he was alive for all that

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time, for 25 years. Then, finding he was alive, and I eventually got

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here after five long years of trying. And I am so ecstatic. He

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welcomed me with open arms. And that is all I wanted. After the

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crash landing, Marianna would not fly again in the Falklands war, so

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you would not see his country surrender on 14th June 1982. For

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Argentina, the war had been a catastrophe. Almost 700 man were

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killed and nearly 1000 injured. But as British troops raised the flag

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in Standley, there was no celebration - just a sense of

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relief. In the UK, the war helped to revive and re-elect Margaret

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Thatcher. We knew what we had to do. And we went about it and did it. We

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had to take back what was, maybe not was -- and what was rightfully

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ours, but we had to come down and it could have swung either way.

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There were a lot of IFS and buts and babies. But I think we did a

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lot -- but I think we did a good Today, as the 30th anniversary of

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the war approaches, Argentina shows no sign of relinquishing its claim

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on the Falkland Islands. But for Neil and Mariano the

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politics of the war are far less important than the people affected

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and the lives lost. Their friendship is genuine - they've

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decided to keep in touch. After all, they've got three decades of

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Part of it is closure. This part of it, meeting him in the flesh, are

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now know that he is alive, and we If you want to contact us about it

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tonight's programme, you can do it fire Facebook or Twitter. That is

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all from here, make sure you join us next week. When we investigate

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how the latest batch of young jockeys are coming to terms with

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30 years after the Falklands war, a British veteran prepares to travel across the world to meet the Argentine pilot who he shot out of the sky.


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