THE RAF Odiham pilot whose courageous flying saved 19 lives in Afghanistan has received the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) from the Queen.

Flight Lieutenant Alex ‘Frenchie’ Duncan, 32, went to Buckingham Palace with his family, friends and comrades – including Flt Lt Alex Townsend, the co-pilot who was beside him during their dangerous flights in the war-torn Asian country.

He said: “After the birth of my son and my wedding, it was the best day of my life.”

The pilot and his crew, which included Master Aircrewman Bob Ruffles and Flight Sergeant Neil Cooper, came as close as any from RAF Odiham to losing a Chinook when the helicopter was hit by gunfire and a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) in May 2008.

The RPG failed to explode, but ripped through the fuselage and punched a hole through the rotor blade and the remnants were sent spinning back into the aircraft.

But Flt Lt Duncan managed to fly the aircraft and its party of VIP passengers – including the Governor of Helmand Province – back to base despite the severe damage.

Six days later, the plucky pilot and his brave crew twice flew into heavy enemy fire to drop troops during an air assault.

After returning from Afghanistan, Flt Lt Duncan left 27 Squadron to become an instructor with 18 Squadron.

Both Squadrons are based at RAF Odiham.

Flt Lt Duncan said he had some help at the Palace from his wife, Alison Duncan-Mercy, 40, who received a MBE a few years ago for her work on the Afghanistan campaign while working for the Government.

“She was telling me where to go and what to do,” said Flt Lt Duncan.

After receiving the DFC from the Queen, Flt Lt Duncan spoke with Her Majesty for a minute-and-a-half about his exploits before going on to a well-earned party, starting with lunch at The Ritz and “copious amount of Champagne”.

He said: “It was absolutely fantastic.

‘‘The day was so good that the next day was a bit rubbish!”

Two officers formerly stationed at RAF Odiham also went to the Palace to receive awards for their efforts.

Group Captain Richard Mason, received a OBE for his spell commanding 18 Squadron between 2006 and 2008, and the Joint Helicopter Force in Afghanistan between July 2007 and January 2008.

He now works at the Ministry of Defence in London.

And Squadron Leader David Morgan received a MBE for his contribution in support of operations.