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  • Writer's pictureLucy Atherton

Fastnet Ceremony at Helicopter Day

Historic helicopters were in flight over Chard at the weekend, as part of an open day run at Chard Equestrian. More than 500 enthusiasts attended the event, which also included drone racing, a climbing wall, den building for children, horseless horse trials, police dog display, visiting aircraft and fun rides.

The Westland Wessex. Photo: Lee Howard

For helicopter enthusiasts it was a chance to see the Whirlwind HAR Mark 10 and the Navy Wessex HU Mark 5 in action - the only ones of their type flying in the world. A number of other helis swooped in to visit including a Wasp, a Scout, a Gazelle, a Bell 505, an Alouette II and Agusta 109 and a Jet Ranger.

At 1pm there was a special ceremony to commemorate the anniversary of the Fastnet Disaster 40 years ago. It was attended by one of the survivors and by Albie Fox, one of the pilots involved, and “Smiler” Grinney, one of the rescue divers. Nineteen people died when a storm wreaked havoc on the race in 1979. Emergency services, naval forces, and civilian vessels were summoned to aid what became the largest ever rescue operation in peacetime.

The Rev Nick Clarke, a former Royal Navy pilot, leads the service. Photo: Lee Howard.

Organiser Andrew Whitehouse said: “The service was really moving and we were particularly honoured to have those involved in the rescue joining us. The survivor who attended asked not to be named, but they told one of our stewards afterwards that they were really touched to be invited. It was so important to us to mark the occasion as the Wessex and the Sea King helicopters were both crucial to the rescue operation, locating and rescuing survivors and ultimately recovering the bodies.”

The drone racing was a qualifier for the national championships, it involved battling it out on an assault course using VR technology. Around 70 competitors took part and the winners were Gary Kent 1st, Leo WHitfield 2nd and Brett Collins 3rd.

Profits went to Historic Helicopters, which helps restore vintage helicopters. Money was also raised for the charity Regain, with a “horseless horse trials”, where a team of three humans instead of horses ran a timed obstacle course and other equestrian challenges. Regain supports those who have become tetraplegic as a result of a sports accident.

Historic Helicopters raises money to help keep vintage military aircraft in the air. It preserves, maintains and operates a select fleet of unique aircraft. A small and dedicated team of aircraft engineers is employed to preserve and maintain the Historic Helicopters fleet. Most of them are former members of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force and have a wealth of knowledge and experience. Several have even previously flown or maintained the very aircraft they are now preserving!

For more information please contact 0778 6688833


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