PETE Sielski looks proudly at his RAF flight safety award in his home.
It is one of the few possessions he managed to salvage when the roof of his flat collapsed, destroying all his possessions and leaving him facing homelessness.
It was the lowest ebb for the former RAF driver, who had been hit by a string of redundancies and changes in his circumstances.
A born and bred Prestonian, the 56-year-old comes from a happy and secure family background, growing up in Walton-le-Dale.
Having joined the RAF at 19 he was stationed around the world including Germany and Ireland working as a driver transporting tanks.
He saved 250 lives when he noticed a civilian Boeing 737 aeroplane full of his comrades wives and children, which was about to take off from a military base in Germany, was on fire.
I just felt totally lost. I’m so lucky I had family around me - because many others in my situation don’t
Courageous Pete jumped into a Land Rover and drove out onto the runway in front of the plane to bring it to a halt as flames poured from its engine.
At the time he was married with a two-year-old daughter, but the strain of the disruption of constantly moving became too much, and the marriage broke down.
Pete was then offered a posting to the Falkland Islands, but reluctantly chose to leave the RAF, knowing that it was the only way he could maintain a close relationship with his daughter.
At first he moved back to Preston, using his driving skills to find employment as a freelance HGV driver and then at 29 he got a job in sales for a Preston cable TV firm.
Pete became the company’s top salesman, driving a company car and earning £500 a week.
But as more and more households got cable TV there became less of a demand and he eventually found himself unemployed when the firm folded.
Charities and homeless agencies are reporting a huge rise in the numbers of once-successful high-earners approaching them as the fallout from the economic recession affects jobs, homes and relationships.
It was the start of a run of bad luck as Pete lost employment with several struggling firms.
His descent into homelessness happened quickly and cruelly when he lost his employment and his accommodation at the same time.
Pete was living in a dinghy and damp flat at the hands of an unscrupulous landlord.
He had nipped out on an errand when disaster struck and the roof caved in, bringing 100 years worth of soot and dust onto everything he owned.
He recalls: “Luckily I was out when it happened otherwise it could have been much worse.
“But everything was ruined. there was barely anything I could salvage, my clothes, possessions.
“The flat wasn’t fit for animals.
“I’m lucky on that I never slept rough, but it was a humiliating experience.
“You can go from a relatively normal life to being homeless so quickly.
“I just felt totally lost. I’m so lucky I had family around me - because many others in my situation don’t.”
The desperate ex serviceman had to resort to sofa surfing with his mum and friends.
HGV driving roles became scarce and he struggled to find work.
Despite his own difficulties, Pete was still determined to help others, refused to give up his charitable work volunteering at Fulwood Barracks.
The Chief Welfare Officer there pointed him in the direction of Preston charity Recycling Lives.
The Recycling Lives social welfare charity operates a six-stage process that is designed to help some of the most marginalised people in the community into employment and independent living.
Pete met with Neil Flanagan, the Recycling Lives charity director, and within three days he was in the charity’s accommodation.
He says: “That’s two years ago and I’ve never looked back. If it hadn’t been for them I don’t know what I would have done.
Determined to get his life back on track, Pete worked hard, qualified as a forklift truck driver and now has full time employment and his own flat in Preston.
He says: “Neil has really saved me; I can’t thank him enough. If it wasn’t for him I don’t know where I’d be.”