The horrific third-degree burns that Jamie Hull suffered over 60 per cent of his body in an aircraft fire almost cost him his life. The doctors gave him a five per cent chance of survival and, as he admits, it took an “epic journey and an inordinate amount of grit, determination, and willpower” to pull through.
After his recovery he almost lost his passion for diving, too. “I first tried it as a backpacker in my early twenties, and I got bitten badly by the bug!” says Jamie, who ended up making a living from the sport in some of the most beautiful reefs and oceans across the world.
“I started with the PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) open water course, then did more and more. I travelled around Australia, worked for a couple of dive companies in Cairns and became a dive master, guiding and supervising students. I was super-hooked and travelled all over to dive; New Zealand, Fiji, Hawaii, America...
“Later, when I joined the Thames Valley Police and had a more conventional career, I often thought about diving and dreamed of getting back into the industry. I eventually took a sabbatical, qualified as a PADI instructor,and worked in Egypt and the Philippines.”
But after his injury, armed forces veteran Jamie “completely lost the confidence to get into the water. My mojo was gone, but I knew why. It takes a huge amount for fragile skin to recover from third- degree burns like mine.
I can’t emphasise enough how debilitating it is. And I was so, so worried what the corrosive salt water might do to me. So I just decided not to risk it.”
But five years on from the 2007 incident, after being invited along on a dive by some old scuba buddies, Jamie decided to give it a go. “I was so worried”.
“I thought my skin might come off with the wetsuit! Waiting to jump into the water was incredibly nerve-wracking. It took all my courage just to get the suit on and take that giant stride into the ocean. But I did it.”
Despite being highly experienced and well qualified, Jamie felt like a novice again. But to his delight, the skills soon came flooding back – and he realised the sea water was actually beneficial to his delicate skin.
“I found hat out to my joy and astonishment!” he says. “It was a therapy in itself! The water was my friend again, and it helped my skin redevelop.” He’s now fully immersed – quite literally – back into that watery world and is aiming to qualify in 2019 as a PADI course director.
“I am currently training with a leading PADI dive centre, Crystal Dive in Koh Tao, Thailand. It’ll be a big ask to qualify, but I’m ambitious and determined to do it.”
Jamie is aware of the huge distance he has come since that fateful day back in the plane which caught fire during a training flight.
Back then, I was part of 21 SAS, and an active young officer in the Thames Valley Police
“I had an ambition to learn to fly, so I went out to Florida to complete a course. I was eventually allowed to fly solo, but one day an engine fire breached the cockpit at an altitude of 1,000ft.
As I made a concerted effort to bring the plane down, I sustained the burns. I had two or three dark years after that and underwent 61 surgeries."
Jamie sustained horrific third-degree burns over 60 per cent of his body and was hospitalised with a 5% chance of survival.. He spent six months in intensive care in the United States in an induced coma. Following repatriation to the UK Jamie was hospitalised for a further 18 months.
”Blesma played a big part in Jamie’s journey back into the water: a trip to the Red Sea with the Association helped reaffirm his love of diving, and he has since helped out on some of the Association’s diving trips.
“It’s nice to give something back. Blesma’s scuba diving programme really does have great scope because it’s an activity that is accessible to people with almost any form of disability. Once you’re underwater, you’re completely weightless, so it doesn’t matter if you’ve got limb loss because you can use the rest of your body to compensate.”
Jamie qualifies as an Associate Member of Blesma not because of the burns to his body but because of the nerve damage he has suffered in the lower portion of both legs. Since joining the charity, the special forces veteran has been skydiving and horse riding in Arizona, but the water remains his focus. He also took part in Race Across America.
“Both physically and mentally, I get so much out of diving. There’s also a strong environmental aspect to scuba. The sport and PADI are addressing environmental issues such as plastic in the oceans, which we should all be mindful of. A small impact makes a real difference, and that can hopefully be brought into some of our future Blesma dives.”