AN airline pilot from the region told yesterday how he helped strike the first blow to regain the Falkland Islands after the Argentinian invasion - setting a world flight record in the process.

Today, Martin Withers, from Easingwold, near York, will fly a Boeing 757 from Newcastle to Alicante for Thomas Cook, but 25 years ago he was piloting a Vulcan bomber across the South Atlantic to attack Argentinian forces.

He was flight lieutenant for Black Buck 1, the first of seven Vulcan bomber missions which marked the beginning of the conflict.

The 16-hour flight from Ascension Island to Port Stanley and back on April 30 and May 1, 1982, was the longest non-stop bombing mission in history.

Speaking on the raid's 25th anniversary, Mr Withers said his plane was reserve to a Vulcan that was forced to pull out of the mission after take-off because of a problem with a window seal.

Argentina, ruled by a military junta, invaded the Falkland Islands on April 2, 1982.

Under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Britain assembled a task force to fight for the isles, 8,000 miles away.

The Vulcans were a key part of the effort.

Mr Withers, 61, a father-of-two, said: "We all hoped to get a political resolution to the war, but it was because you had stubborn-minded Argentinians with a different aim in mind.

''I wasn't scared. It did help going off as a reserve crew because you were less apprehensive.''

Black Buck 1 descended to 300ft during the run-in to Port Stanley before pulling up to 10,000ft for the bombing run.

The 21 1,000lb bombs were released two miles out - one hit the runway and the others hit the dispersal areas, causing damage to aircraft and the fuel storage area.

Mr Withers said: ''We had one bomb right on the runway and, as a result, the runway was never used for the rest of the war by the Argentinians.''

The attack put the enemy on the back foot, he said, because they now knew they were in striking distance.

Mr Withers, who will soon be piloting passenger flights out of Gatwick Airport for airline Zoom, hopes to captain a Vulcan for a fly-past over The Mall, in London, in June to mark the conflict's 25th anniversary.

Britain won the Falklands conflict, but Mr Withers believes it was a conflict that could have been avoided.

He said: ''A war like that should never have happened. Britain was giving strong signals that we were losing interest in the Falklands, putting very little effort into defending the place.

''I don't think they believed we had the will to defend the Falklands.''

Mr Withers received a Distinguished Flying Cross for his part in the missions.