Chris Webber tells the story of Andrew Mynarski's last act of courage that earned him the Victoria Cross.

STANDING by the escape hatch of a plummeting plane, his body in flames, Andrew Mynarski turned to his comrade he had given his life to save. Straight-backed and proud, he saluted.

"He said something, " said Andrew's comrade, Pat Brophy, "Even though I couldn't hear, I knew it was 'Good night, Sir!'" That image of Andrew Mynarski, knowing he was about to die and believing Pat Brophy would soon follow him in death, is famous in his native Canada.

The Northern Echo hopes it will be an image which will soon be captured in bronze as a memorial to The Forgotten Hero.Yet, by rights, no one should ever have known the depth of Mynarski's bravery.

For the survival of Pat Brophy, left stranded in a plane full of bombs which was burning and spiralling to earth, defies belief.

There were five other men with Mynarski and Brophy on that Lancaster Bomber mission. A tightly-knit crew, piloted by Art de Breyne whose mother came from Durham City, they were due to bomb marshalling yards in the Cambrai region of France, a dangerous but common enough mission in the days following D-Day.

Mynarski, 27, had left Middleton St George air base in high spirits. Hours earlier, the sergeant rear-gunner had been commissioned as a pilot officer.

The raid was going according to plan. It was only as they crossed the French coast that they saw the search lights. A blinding flash, and the crew knew they had been caught in a light but, just as suddenly, they were in the dark again.

The plane continued, past coastal defences, making a descent, when Pat Brophy, also a rear gunner and a long-serving pilot officer, saw the German Ju-88 plane.

"There were three explosions, " he later recalled. "Two rounds knocked out both port engines and set the wing tank between the two engines on fire. The third tore into the fuselage, starting a fire between Andy's mid-upper turret and mine."

The situation was desperate. The intercom was dead, the red light signal to bail out was not working. For some reason, Pat Brophy noticed the time, it was 13 minutes past midnight on June 13 on the crew's 13th mission.

The rest of the crew bailed out, Art de Breyne happily convinced that Mynarski and Brophy had already left. But Brophy was trapped.

"There is no room in the rear turret to stow a parachute pack, " he said. "I had to straighten out my turret so I could open the doors to the fuselage and jump from the rear hatch.

"I pressed the rotation pedal and nothing happened, it was broken. The flames were sweeping towards me.

"I remember telling myself, 'there is another way.' I managed to pry open the turret doors a few inches, got my parachute, and tried to handcrank the turret to a position where I could open the doors.

To my horror the rotating rear handle broke off. This time there really was no way out. . .Then I saw Andy."

Mynarski and Brophy had become extremely close. Both gunners, they went out drinking together. They were true friends - as Mynarski now showed.

"I saw Andy at the door and he was just about to jump when he glanced round and spotted me. One look told him I was trapped.

"Instantly he turned away from the hatch - his doorway to safety - and started towards me. By the time he reached me his uniform and parachute were on fire. 'Don't try!' I shouted.

"He didn't seem to notice.

Completely ignoring his own condition he grabbed a fire axe and tried to smash the turret free.

"Wild with desperation and pain he tore at the doors with his bare hands, to no avail. He was a mass of flames below the waist.

"Finally, with time running out, he realised that he could do nothing to help. He hung his head, as though he was ashamed that his sheer heart and courage hadn't been enough."

Mynarski jumped and was found, still alive, by French farmers. He died, in terrible pain, a few hours later. He is buried at Meharicourt Communal Cemetery, in Somme, France.

Pat Brophy braced himself for death but was not even scratched in a crash landing.

"It was as if some gentle, unseen hand had swept me out of my turret, " he said. Alive, he was hidden by the French resistance and, liberated in 1945, he campaigned for his friend to be honoured with the VC for "valour of the highest order."

The last word on Andrew Mynarski goes to Pat Brophy, who died two years ago but never forgot his friend.

He said: "I'll always believe that a divine providence intervened to save me because of what I had seen, so that the world might know of a gallant man who laid down his life for a friend."