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Remembering the crew of a Sea King helicopter which crashed 50 years ago

Published: 23 Mar 2024
Royal Navy sailors and family members gathered on cliffs in Cornwall yesterday to remember the crew of a Sea King helicopter which crashed 50 years ago.
A shortservice was held at Beagles Point, on the Lizard Peninsula. It was during the night of March 21, 1974, that the helicopter collided with the cliffs, killing all four crew.
Those lost were Captain Kenneth McDonald, aged 25, of the Royal Canadian Navy; Sub-Lieutenant Robert Stephen Johnson, 24, from Edinburgh; Sub-Lieutenant Edward Wild, 22 from London; and Leading Aircrewman Brian Sharpe, 27 from Peterborough.
They all served with 824 Naval Air Squadron, which is still based at nearby Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose.
Wreaths were lain at the memorial by family members of Leading Aircrewman Sharpe including his brother Peter Sharpe and his daughter Pamela Puncher.
Mrs Puncher made a poignant reading at the service. She said: “When I thought what it might be like to be here today, my first thought was that it might be windy… not very prosaic perhaps but actually it’s quite a deep-rooted metaphor for me and a remembrance that takes me all the way back to this day in 1974.
“That night, when these wonderful young men that we’re here to honour and remember tragically left us all, there was a piercing wind. I was 8 years old and I awoke in the middle of the night feeling cold. I came out of my bedroom into the hall of our bungalow in Trenethick Parc in Helston.
“The front door was open. A policeman stood in the doorway and the wind blew in wrapping my night dress around my legs and making me shiver. I remember my poor grieving mum, Valerie, sitting with friends. They were all crying. She held my hands and asked me to be brave.”
She added: “We are not here bound by sadness and loss, that is just the consequence of the love we felt. We are all of us bound together by love; our love for them and their love for us and now thanks to this memorial these wonderful young men who died in service of their country can be remembered always by the many people who will stop and read about them, not only by those that loved and lost them. So finally, on behalf of all the families, to Brian, Kenneth, Robert and Edward I say, we love and salute you all.”
Also attending the service were local residents, members of Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, as well as Major Justin Lystiuk of the Royal Canadian Air Force.
The service ended with a flypast by a former Royal Navy Sea King helicopter, now operated by HeliOperations at Portland, Dorset, accompanied by a modern-day Merlin Mk2 helicopter from 824 Naval Air Squadron.
Commander Chris Jones, the commanding officer of 824 Naval Air Squadron said: “We are honoured to welcome the family members of those who tragically lost their lives 50 years ago today.
“As the commanding officer of the squadron, it’s my job to look after the people who serve today and we remember those who have gone before us. This event is something we continue to remember, and I’ve been really pleased to see some of the younger people on the squadron come down to Beagles Point to maintain the memorial. They recognise the importance of what this means to us all.
“What we do in the Royal Navy is inherently dangerous. At 824, we train people to fly at very low level, often at night, and sometimes hundreds of miles away from land in the north Atlantic. We mitigate the risks with our equipment and training. That’s as true today as it was in 1974. We do everything we can to try and make sure a tragic event such as this does not reoccur.”


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