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Charles Bruce
Birth name Charles Christian Cameron Bruce
Born (1956-08-08)8 August 1956
Died 8 January 2002(2002-01-08) (aged 45)
Place of birth Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire
Place of death Fyfield, Oxfordshire
Allegiance Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
Service/branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Years of service 1973–1988
Rank Sergeant
Service number 24329999
Unit 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment (1973–78)
The Red Devils (Parachute Regiment) (1978–82)
22 Special Air Service (1982–88)
Battles/wars Northern Ireland (The Troubles)
Falklands War
Awards Queen's Gallantry Medal
Other work Professional Skydiver, Author & Fixed Wing/Helicopter Pilot

Sergeant Charles Christian Cameron "Nish" Bruce QGM (8 August 1956 – 8 January 2002) was a former British Army soldier and high altitude military parachuting expert.[1][2]

He served with 22 (SAS) Special Air Service in the Falklands War, on anti-drug operations in South and Central America and in Northern Ireland. He was awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal,[3] the South Atlantic Medal, and the General Service Medal.[4]

In the early 1990s he worked on a 'Skydive from Space' project, planning to break the record set by Joe Kittinger in the 1960s,[4] but suffered a mental breakdown. He documented his struggle to recovery in his 1998 autobiography, "Freefall", but committed suicide by jumping from his plane in 2002.

Early lifeEdit

Bruce was born in Chipping Norton in 1956, middle son of Pilot Officer Ewen Anthony Guy Cameron Bruce of No. 92 Squadron RAF[5] during the Second World War. He was the paternal grandson of Major Ewen Cameron Bruce (of Blaen-y-cwm).[6]

Military careerEdit

Bruce joined the Parachute Regiment in 1973 at age 17[7] and in 1978 spent 4 years with The Red Devils Display Team[8] participating in test jumping, international exhibitions and competitions before passing SAS selection and joining 22 SAS in April 1982.[7]

Bruce served with 22 SAS B Squadron, 7 (Air) Troop from 1982–1986 and spent 2 years (1986–1988) with G Squadron, 24 (Air)Troop.[4] While with B Squadron 7 Troop, he served with Al Slater, Frank Collins and Andy McNab.[2] In a November 2008 interview with the Daily Telegraph, McNab described Bruce as 'one of my heroes.'[9]

In 1982, with other members of B Squadron 22 SAS, Bruce parachuted into the South Atlantic Ocean during the Falklands War shortly before the Argentinian surrender[10][11] and took part in Operation Mikado.[4] In November and December 1984 Bruce was involved in two SAS covert counter terrorist operations[4] against the Provisional Irish Republican Army in Kesh, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. These operations led to him being awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal[12][13] "for exemplary acts of bravery", the subsequent death of his colleague Al Slater and the high-profile deaths of IRA Members Antoine Mac Giolla Bhrighde and Kieran Fleming. Slater was posthumously awarded the Military Medal for his bravery in the action.[14]

Parachuting and flyingEdit

At the time of his death, with nearly 30 years in military and civilian parachuting, Bruce had logged over 8,500 parachute jumps. His parachute log books show that he learnt his basic parachuting skills at Sibson Airfield, Peterborough from 1974 to 1978 prior to joining The Red Devils (Parachute Regiment) Display Team and achieved his D Rating in April 1979. Bruce obtained his BPA Approved Instructor rating in March 1983 and became a Tandem skydiving Pilot/Master in 1987.[citation needed]

Bruce was an experienced pilot. He held South African, American and British pilot licences as well as a commercial pilot licence which enabled him to fly both single engine fixed wing aircraft and helicopters. In July 1992 he piloted his single engine Cessna 172 Skyhawk from Washington D.C. across the Atlantic Ocean via Greenland and Iceland back to the UK.[4] At the time of his death, Bruce had logged 488 hours in single engined planes; 41 hours in multi-engine planes and 203 hours in Robinson R22 and Jet Ranger Bell 206 helicopters.[citation needed]

Jim Davidson, Saad Hariri and Operation LockEdit

After leaving the SAS, as a result of a clash with his superiors,[4] Bruce worked with comedian Jim Davidson[15][16] before taking the role of second in command in an undercover operation codenamed Project Lock, a WWF sponsored anti-poaching operation in Southern Africa (1988–1990) led by SAS Founder Sir David Sterling and former SAS Lieutenant-Colonel Ian Crooke.[17][18][19] Operation Lock's primary purpose in southern Africa was to track down dealers in Rhino horn and ivory. Linked to this was identifying their methods for illegal export, pinning corruption against those in high places who colluded with the dealers, and helping with the training and equipping of anti-poaching teams for endangered species in general and rhino in particular.[20] Following Operation Lock, for two years Bruce worked in Washington, D.C. as bodyguard for Lebanese billionaire and current Prime Minister of Lebanon Saad Hariri.[4]

Skydive from space and 1993 Everest expeditionEdit

In the early 1990s Bruce started the Skydive From Space project, to skydive from the edge of space from 130,000 feet and break the highest altitude freefall record previously set by Joe Kittinger himself in the 1960s.[4] He trained with Loel Guinness' High Adventure Company and Joe Kittinger

In return for NASA support on the 'Skydive from Space' project, Nish Bruce, Harry Taylor and experienced mountaineers from High Adventure joined NASA scientist and Space Shuttle Challenger crew member Karl Gordon Henize in a joint expedition to climb the North Ridge Route of Mount Everest in late 1993. The purpose of this expedition was to assist NASA to test a meter called a "tissue equivalent proportional counter" (TEPC) at different altitudes (17,000 ft, 19,000 ft and 21,000 ft) as with plans for longer duration space missions it was important to know how people's bodies would be affected, including the way bodily tissues behaved when struck by radiation.[4]

The expedition was cut short following the death of Karl Henize, who died of high altitude pulmonary edema on 5 October 1993.[4][21][22] Although the expedition was marred by the death of Henize, the TEPC meter had done its job, and when it was later analysed at NASA Headquarters, an increment was added to the human physiology database.[23]


Bruce had a severe mental breakdown in February 1994 in Chamonix, France[4][24] and tried to kill his girlfriend.[4][7] As he went through extensive treatment, the High Adventure 'Skydive from Space' Project was suspended and subsequently closed.

Autobiography: Freefall (1998)Edit

Bruce first came to public prominence in 1998 when his autobiography Freefall was published by Little, Brown and Company[4][25] under the pseudonym 'Tom Read'. Freefall was ghost written by Michael Robotham over a period of 12 months, it has been described as "a startling book both about his military service and his breakdown, told with excoriating honesty".[7]

The book fully documents Bruce's military career with 22 SAS, the Skydive From Space project and Everest ascent, his descent into madness and subsequent recovery. Freefall is described by Andy McNab as "This is Bravo Two Zero meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Read's story had me on the edge of my seat – and it also made me cry".

Tracey Edwards, a renowned sailor, stated that "Freefall is shattering. Tom Read has led at least 9 lives in the space of one lifetime. His book grabs hold of you and won't let you go until the last page – and even then, you can't help wondering what happens next. I hope he gives us the chance to find out".[4][26]


Despite bouts of recovery, after eight years of consistent recurring mental illness[27] and periods sectioned in hospital, Bruce killed himself[28] on 8 January 2002 at the age of 45 years. He jumped from a Cessna 172 at 5000 feet over Fyfield, Oxfordshire, without a parachute while a passenger on a private flight home from Spain to Hinton Skydiving Centre.[29] His military history and the manner of his death resulted in extensive media coverage.[30][31][32][33][34][35] Some have looked to attribute his breakdown and suicide to posttraumatic stress disorder.[36]

Bruce was survived by his son, Jason, his only child. On 16 January 2002, Bruce was cremated at Banbury Crematorium in Oxfordshire and his ashes were subsequently scattered by his son and former colleagues during a memorial skydive in April 2002 at Hinton Skydiving Centre. On 16 January 2002, The Daily Telegraph published a double spread obituary article written by author Michael Robotham titled "Isn't he afraid he'll miss the world?"[37]


  • Nothing else comes close to those first few seconds after leaving the plane, because once you take that last step there is no going back. A racing driver or a skier or climber can pull over and stop, have a rest, but with parachuting, once you cross that threshold, you have to see it through.[38]


  1. Special Forces Roll of Honour, 22 SAS
  2. 2.0 2.1 McNab, Andy (1996). Immediate Action. Corgi Adult. pp. 175–176. ISBN 0-552-14276-X. 
  3. Medals of Britain – Orders, Decorations and Medals
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 Read, Tom. Freefall (Little Brown, Edition 1, 1998), pp. 112–23, 144–53, 162–63, 169–88, 190–201, 216, 224–35, 265, 284–86, 342, front/back cover quotations; ISBN 0-316-64303-3.
  5. Caygill, Peter. Spitfire Mark V in Action: 'RAF Operations in Northern Europe'. Shrewsbury: Airlife, 2001. pp.42-3 & 258.
  6. Townend, Peter. Burke's Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry, 18th edition. 3 volumes. London, England: Burke's Peerage Ltd, 1965-1972.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Addley, Esther. [1] "The Suicide of an Ex-SAS Man, Into the Abyss", 11 January 2002, The Guardian (paragraphs 7, 8)
  8. Nish Bruce Red Devils Stories (Newcastle Show with the Gorilla & 1993 Naked Cyprus Jump)
  9. McNab, Andy. [2], The Daily Telegraph, "Andy McNab on the battle that never ends", 22 November 2008
  10. Sengupta, Kim. [3] "The Falklands Ceremony is too late for 'abandoned' Veterans", 18 June 2007, The Independent
  11. Geddes, John. Highway to Hell (An SAS Veteran's Bloody Account on the Private Army in Iraq). Arrow Books, Random House: 2007, p. 180; ISBN 9780099499466.
  12. McNab, Andy. Seven Troop (2008), pp. 184–87; ISBN 9780552158664
  13. [4] QGM citation for Bruce in the 1986 London Gazette
  14. Medal award for Al Slater (posthumous)
  15. Davidson, Jim. The Full Monty, The Autobiography of Jim Davidson (1993), pp. 194–97; ISBN 0-7515-0737-7
  16. Davidson, Jim. Close to the Edge, The Autobiography of Jim Davidson (2002), Afterward Chapter; ISBN 0091881048
  17. Hanks, John. Operation Lock and the War on Rhino Poaching (2015), p.64; ISBN 9781770227293
  18. [5], The WWF – The First 50 Years (paragraph 6)
  19. Potgieter, Det Wet. Contraband: South Africa and the International Trade in Ivory and Rhino Horn, p. 145 (Publisher: Queillerie, 1995); ISBN 9781874901488
  20. Hanks, John. Operation Lock and the War on Rhino Poaching (2015), p.193; ISBN 9781770227293
  21. [6], The Independent report on the death of Karl Heinze, 23 October 1993
  22. NASA: Press Release: Former Astronaut Karl Henize dies on Mt. Everest Expedition, 8 October 1993
  23. Kalpa Group website
  24. Andy McNab's News. Remembering Nish's Dream,
  25. – Read, Tom Freefall (1998)
  26. Chan, Charmaine. South China Morning Post (May 2004)
  27. [7] Challand, Christine. The Mirror, "Nish believed I was an Undercover IRA agent. Police had to send in a SWAT team"], 26 January 2002.
  28. [8], Allison, Rebecca. The Guardian, "Suicide Verdict – Depressed pilot leapt to death" (21 June 2002)
  29. "SAS Soldier dies in plane plunge", CNN World News, 10 January 2002.
  30. English, Rebecca.[9] Daily Mail, "How I fought to stop SAS man's suicide leap" (January 2002)
  31. [10] BBC News, "Falklands veterans claim suicide toll", 13 January 2002.
  32. Dyer, Clare. "The Forgotten Army". The Guardian, 16 January 2002.
  33. English, Rebecca. [11], The Daily Mail, "SAS Veteran in 5000 ft suicide leap from Plane"
  34. Emsley, Clive. Soldier, sailor, Beggarman, Thief: Crime and the British Armed Services since 1914 (2013), p. 193; ISBN 978-0-19-965371-3.
  35. Kennedy, Michael. Soldier 'I' – The Story of an SAS Hero (2011), p. 350. Osprey Publishing; ISBN 9781849086509
  36. Banks, Tony. Storming the Falklands, My War and After (2012). Chapter 6. Little Brown Publishing; ISBN 9780748130603
  37. Michael Robotham, Isn't he afraid he'll miss the world?" Last week, Charles Bruce jumped to his death from a light aircraft. Michael Robotham, who collaborated on his life story, looks for reasons, The Daily Telegraph, 16 January 2002, p. 17.
  38. Freefall, Tom Read, Published 1998 ISBN 0316848786; p. 23

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