A ROYAL Air Force veteran honoured for his bravery in helping to save people from a stricken ship during the Falklands War has died aged 62.

Father-of-two Brian Jopling, from Carterton, spent 40 years in the RAF in a career that included service in the Falklands and Afghanistan and the first Gulf War.

He also flew as loadmaster on flights carrying many dignitaries, including the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Princess Diana and former Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair.

Mr Jopling, who retired with the rank of Squadron Leader, was awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal, which recognises “exemplary bravery”, for his actions when Argentine planes attacked the container ship Atlantic Conveyor off the Falkland Islands on May 25, 1982.

The ship was carrying RAF helicopters and supplies for the British task force sent to recapture the islands after they were invaded by Argentina that April.

Two Exocet missiles fired by Argentine jets hit the ship, killing 12 members of the crew.

The then Flight Sergeant Jopling was part of a contingent from RAF Odiham travelling with their Boeing Chinook helicopters and was acting as an air-defence machine gunner on the ship’s bridge during the attack.

As fire broke out on board, he donned a respirator mask and led several people out of the ship and into the water before helping them into a liferaft.

As he was wearing an aircrew survival suit, he stayed in the water for up to two hours to ensure all the other survivors were on the raft before he allowed himself to be hauled aboard to join them.

The official citation in the London Gazette said: “Flight Sergeant Jopling acted in the finest traditions of the Royal Air Force and his selfless conduct undoubtedly saved many lives.”

Brian William Jopling was born on November 16, 1951, in Gateshead. Mr Jopling’s father Matthew had served in the RAF during the Second World War.

After attending Gateshead Grammar School, Mr Jopling joined the RAF in 1968. Trained as a clerk, he served at bases in the UK, Bahrain and Malta.

While stationed at RAF Linton-on-Ouse, near York, he met his wife-to-be, Rosemary Lee, in 1970. They married in 1973 and had their first child, Emma, four years later. Their son, Andrew, was born in 1979.

Mr Jopling qualified as an air loadmaster in 1979, joining 33 Squadron at RAF Odiham, in Hampshire, serving on the ceasefire mission in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) on Puma helicopters during the transition to majority black majority rule in the southern African country. The unit received Chinooks in 1981.

Mr Jopling joined 10 Squadron at RAF Brize Norton in 1987, working on VC10s and was selected to carry out VIP cabin duties.

This saw him oversee many trips carrying the Royal Family and members of the Government but he saw front-line service again in the Middle East during the 1991 Gulf War.

Witney Gazette: Brian Jopling with a Tristar in 2002

In 1995 he was commissioned as an officer and later joined 216 Squadron as steward leader, working on TriStars.

Mr Jopling was promoted to Squadron Leader in July 2003 and earned the Operational Service Medal for Afghanistan in 2006, before his final posting as a loadmaster examiner on the VC10s. He retired in November that year.

In retirement, he volunteered at the Witney Citizens Advice Bureau and for the Royal British Legion.

His hobbies included running and DIY and he was a Newcastle United football supporter.

Mr Jopling died on March 20, at Oxford’s Sobell House hospice, following a year-long battle with renal cancer.

He is survived by his wife and children.

His funeral was held last Wednesday at St John the Evangelist Church in Carterton.