You remember the tale of Sarah Bennett who innocently asked on Pprune “Does anyone remember my Dad?” He died in a Vulcan accident. (You can refresh your memory here.) Well, today was the day of the anniversary and below is the remarkable story of what happened.After being given so much information it was obviously going to be a special day for Sarah, so a couple of Ppruners who still live near Cottesmore, which is deep in military aviators’ country, made arrangements to give her some company for the visit. But, taking up an idea first floated on Pprune by my old friend Nigel Corrigan (though I didn’t realise then that it was him behind the anonymous username), some of us began gently leaning on IX Sqn to arrange a flypast – not such a simple thing to do in an age when bureaucracy has sadly permeated even front-line fighting forces.
I was one of those and thought little of it when the days passed without a positive response. Another campaigner, and seasoned aviator from an earlier age – Nick Ireland – phoned up and was pretty much told there was no chance at all. But it rather seems that word eventually got through via enough channels that it was unignorable, and out of the blue last week I took a call from the current offcer commanding IX Sqn, Wg Cdr Dave Waddington with a simple message: we’ll do it. Not the suggested four-ship (fair enough) but a singleton.
I thought this was terrific, decided to make the trip myself, and one way or another Sarah, me, the local Cottesmore guys, and a IX Sqn groundcrewman – Rob Swanson – arranged to meet. That would be great I thought, a nice little group of us paying our respects.
Somehow over the weekend things changed. Dave Waddington started talking about a three-ship – maybe. And everyone else apparently started talking too.
And so by the time I turned up today the envisaged group had grown somewhat. In addition to Sarah there was Sara Goodman, the daughter of Fg Off Benny Goodman, killed along with Sarah’s father Flt Lt Al Bennett in the accident and who had originally found Sarah via Pprune. And then there was Jill Rees-Nicholls, then-wife of Flt Lt Steve Sumpter, also killed. Biggest surprise of all was the presence of Peter Tait – who as Flt Lt Tait was the captain of the aircraft who escaped in near-miraculous circumstances after waiting until the last second (and beyond) before ejecting in the vain hope that the rear crew would be able to bale out. Peter had heard what was happening only the day before via the Vulcan to the Sky Trust who had heard about it from my broadcaster chum Sean Maffett, who also turned up. Then there was the BBC TV crew and the BBC Radio Leicester reporter, and the rest of us who were there because, well because it just seemed like the thing to do.
We all met in the Sun Inn in Cottesmore village and I hope Sarah won’t mind me saying that at that point she looked a bit overwhelmed and I had the uncomfortable feeling that perhaps the whole thing had got out of hand. Anyway then the splendid Nick Ireland, now happily retired nearby, led us all off to the accident site at Cow Close Farm.
We mooched around for a while, under a perfect blue sky but in temperatures not much above zero, not quite sure what the appropriate thing was to do. Rob Swanson, had the good sense to phone his base and find out the Tornado routing. West to east, he reported, letting the BBC man get his camera set up.
And suddenly there it was. A lone Tornado hurtled towards us from the horizon, moderately low, extremely fast, and perfectly positioned. And then it was gone.
There were tears, hugs and smiles in no particular order and a few minutes of peace and quiet for Sarah, Sara, Jill and Peter. Then the BBC teams did what they do, as you can see here.
Finally it was back to the pub for lunch and lots of aeroplane chat. Sarah and her new friends were still at it when I left for London. I rather think they’ll be in touch for a long while to come.
And as for IX Sqn. Well, it turns out they launched two Tornadoes, but as so often with things aeronautical one developed a snag and had to return to base. I think we can all live with that, these are guys who know when to do the right thing. A huge thanks.
(While I’ve been writing this post, Emma Gillett, daughter of the other surviving pilot Mike Gillett, has just turned up on Pprune too – I’m beyond being surprised by the twists in this story.)
And finally some pictures, shamelessly pinched from assorted contributors to Pprune today.
IX Sqn at the time of the accident
The Tornado runs in. Cables in the background extracted Peter Tair’s parachute and saved his life
l-r: Sarah Bennett, Sara Goodman, Peter Tait, Jill Rees-Nicholls today
Plaque from church at RAF Cottesmore. Pic Crown Copyright