That Vulcan again, two ladies and their dads, and a lady and her husband, a pilot, a Tornado, and lots of well-wishers

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.

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IX Sqn at the time of the accident

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The Tornado runs in. Cables in the background extracted Peter Tair’s parachute and saved his life

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Tornado overflys

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l-r: Sarah Bennett, Sara Goodman, Peter Tait, Jill Rees-Nicholls today

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Plaque from church at RAF Cottesmore. Pic Crown Copyright

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4 Responses to That Vulcan again, two ladies and their dads, and a lady and her husband, a pilot, a Tornado, and lots of well-wishers

  1. Nick Ireland January 31, 2008 at 5:09 pm #

    I thought that the way that everything came together was just marvellous. There was lovely weather and a group of people meeting up, with grief and regret, but also with happy memories and hope for the future. My best wishes to all who attended and to their families. May the rest of 2008 be as good for you as 30th January was for me.

  2. Mike Gillett (the co-pilot) January 31, 2008 at 5:41 pm #

    Kieran. What an extraordinary turn of events. A couple of nights ago I was at my computer trying to do some work but feeling a bit distracted and sad when Peter Tait called to tell me what had transpired on PPrune and what was happening the following day, the 30th. Unfortunately my wife Jenny and I were not able to get to Cottesmore at such short notice and so, not able to meet the girls. There were four fathers of babies under one year on that aircraft and I was the only one that survived.
    I was the new boy on the crew having just transferred from 12 Squadron which had disbanded to become a Buccaneer Squadron. Al Bennett was not one of the crew but as Squadron Nav Radar leader, was doing a periodic performance check on Benny Goodman as is the wont of aircrew. What a sadness that he had to do it on that day. With spending time in hospital and Headly Court we lost contact with all except Judith and Sara Goodman. A few years after leaving the Air Force my job folded and I ended up in Nigeria for seven plus years. Judith had sadly died and we unfortunately lost contact with Sara. It seems a miracle that after all this time, everybody seems to have been able make contact again. I can only say how grateful we are for the enormous part that you have played in the process

  3. Nia January 31, 2008 at 6:56 pm #

    As an ex-RAF daughter this has brought tears to my eyes. My mum and dad remember this happening, just before we went out to Changi. WELL DONE to all involved,fantastic effort.

  4. philip graham February 13, 2008 at 8:17 pm #

    Hi wishing to share your grief and regret with the passing of members that were associated with 9sqd Vulvans.
    All ground crew – especially the crew/chief would have equally felt your great loss.
    My late dad Chief/tech Jock Graham ex 9sqd 1965 xm605 crew/chief. Burried Cottesmore cemetry along with mum Olive – ex clerical officer. Mum lived in village 20 years. worked on camp and would have met all new arrivals. May I take this oppertunity to ask if anyone has any photos of 9 sqd ground crew or xm605 at Coningsby/Cottesmore 1963/65 time. This would help me also with my sad loss. Kindest regards from son Philip – ex RAF

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