The British Army’s chief of the general staff was declared “missing in action” yesterday after a helicopter delivered him to the wrong field on Salisbury Plain.
General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith had hitched a lift on a Wildcat Helicopter to observe an MoD field exercise. But rather than the pre-agreed spot in the 150-square-mile training area, he was dropped off in a field about 600 metres away – triggering a “manhunt” for the “lost” ex-special forces commander, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, The Telegraph reports.
The Sun reports that “desperate” soldiers tried to reach Carleton-Smith and his aides by mobile phone, “but they were stuck in a mobile blackspot”.
“There was an ‘Oh shit moment’ when they realised they had lost the head of the army,” a defence source told the Forces Compare website. “His visit was a really big deal, and they had everything planned out.”
According to The Times, “frantic Whatsapp messages” were exchanged between the 56-year-old general’s staff and aides in the welcoming party “as the visit threatened to unravel”.
The mishap quickly became the talk of the barracks, with some soldiers creating memes inspired by their lost boss. The newspaper’s defence editor, Lucy Fisher, tweeted some of their efforts, including a poster for the TV show Lost with Carleton-Smith’s face superimposed onto that of one of the lead characters.
Others compared his disappearance to the events in Blackadder Goes Forth, the final series of Rowan Atkinson’s hit BBC comedy.
After Carleton-Smith was finally tracked down by the welcoming party, a fellow general, who “asked not to be named”, told The Sun that “these things happen more than you might realise”.
“Mark is a highly accomplished Special Forces operator,” the general added. “He can just look at the stars and navigate to where he needs to be. He is steeped in escape and evasion skills. I am sure he will see the funny side.”