Saturday, August 20, 2011

Risky Business

The tragic death of a Red Arrows pilot at the Bournemouth Air Festival this afternoon has added a somber note to the weekend. I last saw the team at 18:40 yesterday evening as I was waiting at the Echo hold for the Memorial Flight to get underway ahead of me. The 'Arrows' were enjoying a BBQ with other pilots and friends about 50 yards away at the flying club. If I hadn't had a flight to do over Bromsgrove this afternoon, I would still have been at Bournemouth today.

My thought are with Flt Lt. John Egging's family and team mates and the awful incident illustrates only too well that air displays, while conducted under strict safety rules, are never without an element of risk and to lose any pilot is bad enough but one of the Red Arrows is a national tragedy, given their massive popularity and professionalism. They are also really friendly, nice guys too, as I find are all display pilots.

Bournemouth's Air Festival has been incredibly well organised and yesterday morning, while I waited for the car to take me back from the Queen's Hotel to the airport for my small part in the performance, I wandered down to the seafront to enjoy the view and admire how well the local council have arranged everything to show the town off to its best. There are some useful lessons to be learned from both the Bournemouth and Dawlish events of the last few days and I'm hoping we can put some of these into practice for Margate's own 'Big Event' in 2012.

Thursday's thunderstorm at Bournemouth was quite unbelievable; even one of the roads collapsed under the weight of water and the evening 'Night Air' display was cancelled. I had been finishing-up the afternoon with a flight after the Arrows at Dawlish, where the weather had completely collapsed into a claggy drizzle. I left Exeter climbing straight into the clouds, up to 5,500 feet to avoid the high ground, with no chance of breaking through into sunlight. Fortunately I popped out back again a half hour later, at 600 feet in front of the runway on a vectored instrument approach into Bournemouth and when I landed I watched the Memorial Flight Lancaster attempt to leave, take-off and return very promptly having seen what the weather was like.

This week gave me plenty of opportunity to ask several of the pilots who took part in our our air show this summer, what they thought about moving the venue from Palm Bay. The answer I received was that Palm Bay is great location but Margate sea front with a sweeping display line from the Harbour Arm along the sands towards Westbrook is even better. The Hawk pilots also suggested changing the display line angle slightly to maximise the run along the cliffs for the jets to take in the crowds gathered there. I'll pass these ideas and others to my cabinet colleague Alasdair Bruce.

Tomorrow, I've a marriage proposal to do at Botany Bay towards the end of the afternoon, so you may see me running a banner along the seafront on the way there. The name is unusual enough not to confuse any of the thousands of lady visitors on the beach into thinking it's aimed at them.


Anonymous said...

anon again!

Red Arrows tragedy, very sad!
I even shed a tear or few watching the Hero fighting his plane away from the Housing Estate, leaving his own safety too late.
Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging. R.I.P.

Anonymous said...

Very sad news, glad I got the opportunity to see him flying at Manston last week. RIP Jon