JJ Chalmers boarded a flight to Japan for the Tokyo Paralympics when he was unexpectedly reunited with the pilot who flew him out of Afghanistan a decade ago and helped save his life.
In 2011, Chalmers served as a Royal Marine for the United Kingdom and was stationed in Afghanistan to help protect local civilians and conduct bomb searches. During a search in May 2011, Chalmers and his team triggered a bomb. The explosion killed two of his friends and the Afghan interpreter with them. Chalmers and three others were left severely injured.
Chalmers was lifted onto a direct flight back to the U.K. for medical treatment. He said although he was in a coma during the flight, he was later told the pilot and crew played a large part in saving his life.
Who is Paralympic swimmer Abbas Karimi?: Born without arms, he is poised to be first refugee medalist
Paralympic Games highlights: Moments from the Tokyo Paralympic Games opening ceremony
Chalmers underwent dozens of surgeries and five years of rehab; he lost his right elbow, two fingers and suffered several facial injuries.
"I've survived the un-survivable, so I'll always have side effects," Chalmers told USA TODAY.
Now a TV presenter and reporter for BBC and other outlets, Chalmers was on his way to Tokyo in August when a flight attendant tapped him on the shoulder and asked him if he'd served and been injured in Afghanistan.
After Chalmers confirmed, the flight attendant said there was someone on board who wanted to greet him.
It was David Ellis, the pilot who flew Chalmers back to safety in the U.K. and who was also flying Chalmers to the Paralympics Games. The flight attendant told Chalmers that once the aircraft was ready, Ellis would like to speak with him.
"I burst into tears," Chalmers said. "He said, 'Hello, JJ. Nice to meet you again.'"
Ellis said he recognized Chalmers' name on the passenger list and, after a brief look into his old flying logbook, Ellis realized who Chalmers was. The pair spent hours reminiscing about their careers in the military, catching up and thanking each another.
Although Chalmers couldn't shake Ellis's hand due to COVID-19 regulations, he thanked him for helping save his life after the bombing incident.
"I thanked him for playing a crucial part in ensuring I had a life, he was a critical critical part in an early stage where my life still hung very much at a balance," Chalmers said.
Chalmers posted the exchange and photos on Twitter, where Ellis replied.
"I'm so glad I check my logbook. I hope we can have a beer sometime (when I'm not flying you about." Ellis tweeted.
When Chalmers returns from Tokyo, he looks forward to meeting again for that beer. But first, he's focused on presenting at the Paralympics and representing what people with disabilities can achieve.
"I'm extremely proud to be part of the Paralympic movement and to have a disability and I suppose champion to try and change people's perceptions of what it means to have a disability and the aspirations you can still have," Chalmers said.
Follow Gabriela Miranda on Twitter: @itsgabbymiranda
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Paralympics TV presenter, veteran reunites with pilot who saved him