Royal Marine Chris Air
A University of York graduate was among 15 Royal Navy personnel seized and detained for 13 days by Iranian authorities who accused them of “invading” Iranian waters.
The 15 British personnel were released on April 4 2007 when in a surprise move Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejah announced their release as a “gift” to the British people for Easter.
Royal Marine Captain Chris Air graduated from York in 2003 with a BSc in Chemistry before joining the Royal Marines in August 2004.
In a press conference held today Capt Air said “we were taken illegally from inside Iraqi territorial waters by force and against our will”. Capt Aid went on to describe how the sailors and marines were flown to Tehran and subject to random interrogation and rough handling, and faced constant psychological pressure.
Capt Air said the worst moment was when “they lined us up, blind folded us and put blankets over our heads. We could hear people cocking weapons and laughing. Using our imagination you imagine the worse”.
Iranian state television had showed footage of Capt Air indicating on a map where the crew had been captured, appearing to support the Iranian claims, which the British government have repeatedly denied.
In the footage he said: “On the morning of Friday the 23rd of March at approximately half eight, we left coalition warship Foxtrot 99. Our task, our two boats, was to go up to the area around this Persian Gulf area round here. And approximately, about 10 o’ clock in the morning, we were seized apparently at this point here from their maps on the GPS they’ve shown us which is inside Iranian territorial waters.”
He also added that the crew had been treated “very well… they’ve looked after us and make sure we’ve been given enough food.”
Whilst at York, Capt Air was involved in University sport and worked for Doorsafe, the student security body. John Emerson was a friend of Capt Air at university and studied with him. He said: “It came as a shock when I saw him on the news, but it’s good to know he is okay.”
Capt Air’s former department commended him as a “very committed and able student during his time here…His natural intelligence, trustworthiness and physical ability made a career choice in the marines perfect for Christopher”. A University spokesman added, “The University is greatly relieved that Captain Chris Air, and his fellow service personnel, are safe and well and reunited with their families. Chris was a very committed and able student during his time at the University of York.”
Chris Air’s family
From his family home in Cheshire Captain Air’s mother Sally Air spoke of her joy at hearing the news of his release. She said: “We are just ecstatic and can’t put into words what we feel. As parents, the source of your greatest joy and pain come from the same place, your child.
“The last few weeks have been a living hell and a constant battle to stay positive. Our lives totally stopped but when I found out Chris and his colleagues were going to be released it took my breath away.
“Chris is sensitive, he is very caring and very committed to friends, he is a real team player. He is never happier than when he is with friends or colleagues. He has thrived in the Royal Marines because of the aspect of teamwork.
“He doesn’t cope well with isolation and that was one of our worst fears that he would be kept alone.”
After their release was announced on Iranian television, the crew travelled from Tehran to Heathrow, where they boarded Royal Navy Sea King helicopters and were flown to Chivenore Royal Marines Barracks in Devon. Dressed in full military uniform, they were then reunited with their families.
Since the release of the Royal Navy personnel it has been disclosed that Capt Air acknowledged in an interview recorded before his capture that one purpose of patrols in the disputed waterway was to gather intelligence on Iranian activity.
The MoD said this was “entirely appropriate” and “all part of modern operations”.