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
It is nearly 30 years since 255 British servicemen and women lost
their lives in the Falklands War. Back then, at a Braille navy gunner
was hailed as a hero, after shooting down a top fighter pilot.
-- a Royal Navy. Nicola has uncovered an extraordinary story of
international friendship that was born in battle. 8,000 miles away,
in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean, lie the Falkland Islands.
Just 3,000 people live in this remote British outpost, and it was
a determination to preserve their unique way of life that led to a
bitter war taking place here in More than 900 men were killed when
Argentina invaded the Falklands. Thousands of personal stories of
bravery and survival came out of the war, but to this day, one of
the most extraordinary has never I fired at 10, hit the aircraft, a
lot of smoke came out. I feel the impact. For 25 years, Royal Navy
gunner Neil Wilkinson believed he had killed the pilot of an
Argentine fighter jet. I thought "he is dead". But in 2007, Neil
discovered he had survived, and now, three decades on, the two former
enemies are about to meet for the first time. Neil's story starts
here in Portsmouth, back in April 1982. When Argentina invaded the
Falkland Islands, a British Naval taskforce was rapidly deployed from
here. Neil was 22-years-old at the time and his ship was on its way to
The Government has now decided that a large taskforce will sell as soon
as all preparations are complete. HMS Invincible will be in their
lead. It will leave port on a Monday. I was a young able seaman
who'd joined the Navy to see the world, and get paid for it. I never
envisaged going to war at all. It was something that, you know might
happen, but not at 22. Neil's ship was HMS Intrepid. She was being
decommissioned in 1982, but when the war broke out, she was saved
from Breakers Yard and made battle- ready in record time. The people
give us a fantastic send off, there were balloons and banners and
everything. It was a lovely feeling, to be on the upper deck, watching
them. Knowing that somebody's family was there. Neil's ship
played a key role in the Falklands War along with its sister ship, HMS
Fearless. Together they defended the beachhead at San Carlos Bay and
landed thousands of British troops on the islands. But it was events
on one day in particular that had a So this is it, almost exactly as it
was. This is the same type of gun that Neil fired from HMS Intrepid.
Today, it's buried in a store room in Portsmouth, but seeing it has
brought back vivid memories for Neil. This is what we call a
spider's website. You only have a few seconds to get ready, whichever
direction they were coming from. You would fire in front of the
aircraft. I was the only weapon that are fired up that day on our
ship. The aircraft came over, and I had to range in on them, and then I
opened fire. To actually pull the trigger did not take much doing.
After the first initial few days, it becomes second nature - you know
what to do. There is an element of water that comes my way? What do
you do then? Produced will have a job to do. That is what your job is
to do - you are protecting your ship. Almost 30 years ago, Neil was
hailed a hero for shooting down the Douglas A4 skyhawk, but the reality
Apology for the loss of subtitles for 56 seconds
The aircraft had just released its weapon. It then noticed that it had
been fired at. It noticed that it had lost hydraulic pressure, and
one of the aircraft men noticed a fire. Then, the aircraft crashed
into a land, and the pilot safely In 1982, he was 33-years-old, and
one of Argentina's most highly- skilled combat pilots. In fact, he
was the pilot who launched the devastating air attack on the
British destroyer HMS Coventry. Despite these losses, neither our
resolve not our confidence is weekend. It was a disastrous loss
for the British. 19 men died as the ship sank. In Argentina, Velasco
was a hero, but his luck would soon Neil has decided the time has come
to lay old ghosts to rest. He's about to start out on a journey
that will change his life. There we are, sir. That is your boarding
card. Velasco has agreed to meet him at his home in Argentina. But
before he gets there, Neil has another important visit to make.
He's returning to the Falkland Islands. Life on the Falklands has
never been quite the same since 1982. Today, the islanders are
forced to live in the shadow of the war. We've arrived on the islands
and he's heading to the coast. This is San Carlos Bay on East Falkland
it played a key role for the British in the war. For Neil, it
was the heart of the battle and a place he'll never forget. We work
in here with probably 30 other ships at the time. It was just
horrendous. The Argentine air force gave us a welcoming but I don't
think anybody was prepared for. the time the task force arrived,
more than 10,000 Argentine troops were occupying the Falklands. On
21st May, the British ships began to unload their own soldiers. They
had to get as many men and supplies as possible onto the islands.
Neil's ship was positioned just a few miles out from here. It played
a key role in getting thousands of British troops onto the beaches
here at San Carlos. But when the Argentines got wind of the landings,
they responded with a series of fierce and relentless air attacks.
Argentine at Sky Hawk jets came in time and again to bomb British
ships. Back then, this whole area became known as Bomb Alley - so
intense was the fighting that took Mind-blowing. To be here now after
30 years The Argentine air force inflicted serious damage on the
British fleet, but they also suffered huge losses of their own.
On the 27th May Velasco set out from Rio Gallegos in Argentina. He
was piloting one of four Skyhawk fighter jets on a bombing raid to
San Carlos - where Neil's ship Intrepid was waiting. The aircraft
attacked, and that in, I started the motor on the weapon. I fired
off the six rounds, I hit the aircraft. A lot of smoke came out
the back of the aircraft, and I thought, there is no way anybody
can survive that. Mariano Velasco's squadron had
entered the bay from the South. The first two Skyhawks dropped their
bombs and escaped. But as Velasco flew in he was met with a barrage
of gunfire. Neil fired into the sky and hit the
Neil wants to know more about what happened that day. So our next stop
is West Falkland. From the air it becomes clear just
how desolate and remote these islands are. Velasco's plane came
down somewhere on the other side of this channel.
All we need to do now is figure out where.
So we've just landed on the West Island in a place called Port
Howard, which has a population of just 25 people. Now, luckily for us
one of the islanders here is going to help us look for the wreckage of
Velasco's Skyhawk. We think it's about six miles from here, so let's
see if we can go and track it down. This is where we are, Port Howard.
The green hill is out here... Bill was a young man when the
Argentines invaded, but like many islanders, his memories of the war
are still vivid. The landscape here is almost
The Falkland Islands all his life, and he knows this area like the
back of his hand. We did not have it any Argentinian troops there, we
could see them coming in threes or fours. The landscape here is almost
without features, but Bill knows this area like the back of his hand.
That is a green hill... Another two or three miles and we will be there.
It's been a long journey - Neil's already travelled more than 8,000
miles from his home in Yorkshire to find out about the pilot he thought
he'd killed. Now, as he approaches the place where Velasco's war ended,
he's finally getting closer to the truth. It is a very strange feeling.
Look at this. There are bits all over the place, still here. I do
not now how we get out of it. I know it did eject, but luckily, for
him, he did. It is just unbelievable Acton
The last time Neil saw this aircraft was in 1982, when he
watched it veer out of the sky followed by a plume of black smoke.
Velasco's escape was incredible. Many other Argentine pilots weren't
so lucky. It is a brilliant feeling, not to gloat over a crash site, and
to say, this is what I did. The feeling inside is that, he got out
and he did survive it. I am really pleased that he did.
Over the last 30 years people have visited this site and removed parts
of the wreckage as a sort of souvenir of the war. So it's
astonishing that in 2012, so much of the aircraft remains. You can
see the yellow paint, but they had painted on... That is the Argentine
markings. $$NEWLINEThe Skyhawk came down with such force that even
today a deep impact crater is clearly visible. By ejecting,
Velasco had saved himself from certain death.
Over the next few days Velasco would walk more than ten miles over
some of the most brutal terrain with a badly injured ankle. The
temperature was below freezing, the war was continuing all around him -
so it must have been a huge relief when he finally came across this
abandoned shepherd's lodge. It was stocked with food and fuel
for heating, and Velasco took shelter here for several days until
eventually help arrived. Only after Velasco was rescued from the lodge
on the West Island would he hear about the brutal land battles that
had taken place in the East. 500 British troops had attacked
Argentine forces at Goose Green and Darwin.
They were among the bloodiest days of the whole war. 17 British and 55
Argentineans were killed during 14 Almost three decades have passed
since the war, but Britain still maintains a large military base on
the Falklands. Today Neil's been invited onboard
one of the Royal Navy's support vessels. It's the first time he's
been back on a warship since the 1980s.
Neil can never forget the bloody battles that took place in these
waters but he's still proud of his time in the Navy.
$YELLOW Returning to the Falklands has been a once-in-a-lifetime
His role was on -- his role was invaluable as a gunner on the deck.
It has been a real pleasure having him on board. Returning to the
Falklands has been a once in a lifetime opportunity for a meal.
It's allowed him to come to terms with what happened in the war and
to remember those who lost their lives.
And a chance to discover more about Shot down. The images in my brain
are not going to go away, but I am getting some closure. But he has
also been an adventure. In Argentina, Neil will face his
biggest challenge. When I come face to face with the same pilot that
attacked that day, it will be raw emotion. As it probably is now,
really. We have been travelling for several hours, through the car door
but province. -- Cordoba province. Neil knows Velasco has agreed to
meet him, but his feeling anxious about coming face-to-face with the
man he tried to kill. We are less than three hours away, and I am
very nervous, very apprehensive, and to be honest, I cannot tell you
what is going through my mind. It is just awash with the different
thoughts of how we might end up, and I do not know what the outcome
will be when I meet him face to face. Marianna Velasco's Skyhawk
was one of ten destroyed in the war, but some have been preserved in
Argentina. This is just like the aircraft for Lasker was forced to
This Skyhawk flew on many successful bombing missions against
the British. In Argentina it's a After the war, Velasco returned to
Argentina and went on to have a long and successful career in the
air force, eventually rising to the position of Commodore. He still
believes the Falkland Islands belong to Argentina.
Today he's retired and lives with his family in a small rural village
in the mountains. Now, finally, Neil is about to meet him. So you I
am going to leave you now to make these final few steps on your own.
Good luck. Thank you. This is brilliant. You on your own. Thank
you. Hello. Hello. Welcome to my house. Thank you. It is an honour.
Neil's waited a long time for this moment - and now that it's here the
relief is overwhelming. It is to massive to put into words. I do not
know what to say. I am just so happy, really, that you brought me
here. And I have here. At his house. The compass... This is the moment I
reject. -- This is the moment I inject. Along time has passed, and
wins have had time to heal. Unbelievable. I almost said that
when you came over, it was a round I have been t a crash site. It is
in many pieces. Too big to carry to you! For this time, I have had the
build up, the build up, and not knowing he was alive for all that
time, for 25 years. Then, finding he was alive, and I eventually got
here after five long years of trying. And I am so ecstatic. He
welcomed me with open arms. And that is all I wanted. After the
crash landing, Marianna would not fly again in the Falklands war, so
you would not see his country surrender on 14th June 1982. For
Argentina, the war had been a catastrophe. Almost 700 man were
killed and nearly 1000 injured. But as British troops raised the flag
in Standley, there was no celebration - just a sense of
relief. In the UK, the war helped to revive and re-elect Margaret
Thatcher. We knew what we had to do. And we went about it and did it. We
had to take back what was, maybe not was -- and what was rightfully
ours, but we had to come down and it could have swung either way.
There were a lot of IFS and buts and babies. But I think we did a
lot -- but I think we did a good Today, as the 30th anniversary of
the war approaches, Argentina shows no sign of relinquishing its claim
on the Falkland Islands. But for Neil and Mariano the
politics of the war are far less important than the people affected
and the lives lost. Their friendship is genuine - they've
decided to keep in touch. After all, they've got three decades of
Part of it is closure. This part of it, meeting him in the flesh, are
now know that he is alive, and we If you want to contact us about it
tonight's programme, you can do it fire Facebook or Twitter. That is
all from here, make sure you join us next week. When we investigate
how the latest batch of young jockeys are coming to terms with
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.