Today's post is, I must admit, a little different to the subjects I usually touch on. However I feel it needs to be said. For as long as I can remember, I have every year without fail attended numerous air shows around the country, of which I have always enjoyed.
A few months ago, on 31st at 4am, I was getting ready for a great day out. We were going to RNAS Culdrose air day and I couldn't wait. But what I didn't know was what the events that were to unfold that day, or of the man who saved my life.
We arrived at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall shortly after 9am and spend the morning looking round the static park, hangers and stalls and took a great many photos. We spent ages in one particular hanger, temporary home to the Sea Fury, a plane I have watched and loved my whole life. I couldn't wait to watch it fly later in the day. We had some lunch and settled down to watch an afternoon of flying.
This was it, the moment I had been waiting for. Waiting at the end of the runway, ready for take off... the Sea Fury. Then it was off climbing into the sky, so high I could no longer see it. It had disappeared out of view. A few minutes later it was flying straight over my head, ready to start its display, what a entrance!
A quick pass and loop and the plane grew higher in the sky. Suddenly, I noticed what looked like smoke pouring from the front of the plane. Something was dangerously wrong. Unlike the red arrows, the Sea Fury was build from a time before smoke trails for displays and so shouldn't have been smoking.
Then all of a sudden, the plane turned back towards the runway, nose-diving towards the ground. I never used to believe people when they said they saw something in slow motion. However, what was about to unfold, although happening in less than a minute, felt like it was lasting an hour. The Sea Fury, continued to nose-dive until I could no longer see it due to the crowd line.
All of a sudden, a massive dust cloud and airplane parts could be seen flying into the air... the Sea Fury loved by so many had crashed. Almost at the same time, a flare was shot, actioning the emergency services. But there was no bang, no explosion, so what had happened?
We got to the front just as Lietenant Commander Chris Gotke was jumping down from the plane, unhurt, the plane pretty much in one piece apart from slight damage caused by the crash landing. It wouldn't be until later that evening that we understand more about what had happened.
As Chris expected the damage, the atmosphere was truely unique and memorable. He received, although I doubt he knew it at the time, a standing ovation and a massive applause from what felt like everybody on the base.
On the news that night, reports were being told of the crash and of how Chris had to chose between landing in a nearby field or landing at the air base. However, what wasn't explained was that in this 'nearby field' was an overspill carpark full of spectators watching from the comforts of their cars. Either way, Chris faced an unimaginably difficult decision. Either way, a lot of people could be dangerously hurt, as well as the pilot himself.
Within moments Chris had had to make some very difficult decisions, of which were explained on 'Close calls' aired this week. As explained on the programme, even landing within the base entailed dangers. The plane could have lost control or exploded into the crowd.
However this didn't happen and I truely believe there is only one answer why... the skill and dedication of Chris ensured that although the plane was damaged, he made sure that nobody was hurt. He risked his life, to save not only the crowd but tried to cause as little damage to the plane as possible.
If he had come to the decision to bail out instead, the plane would have been out of control and I probably wouldn't be here to write this. I honestly think that Lietenant Commander Chris Gotke saved many lives that day, including my own and for that I am truely grateful. He went above and beyond his job that day and so on remembrance this year, not only will I be remembering the fallen, I will be remembering the sacrifice he and many others were and are willing to make.