Shoreham RAFA Airshow 2015.
After our return from Fairford and RIAT we were determined to spend some time at home enjoying some summer weather.
The garden, particularly the hedges, had reverted to jungle and required taming and cutting back and we intended to just relax in between with plenty of BBQ’s.
With the garden put to rights and looking neat and tidy again we were looking forward to our annual trip south to Shoreham and Dunsfold, our favourite airshows of the year. Some months earlier I had booked us into the C&CC CS at Cobnor, near Chichester, for the days in between shows. It is always lovely to go there to relax, sit in the sun and walk around the headland enjoying the views over Chichester Harbour and across to the Isle of Wight.
It was an early start on the Friday morning as we were due to meet up with the other volunteers to set up at 11am. The traffic was lighter than expected and so we made good time and arrived at Shoreham at 10.30 just as most of the others turned up.
Then frustration. It seemed that the organisers hadn’t allocated a pitch for us and didn’t know where to put us despite our presence being part of the contract to book the biggest attraction of the show – Vulcan XH558.
After waiting and wasting over two hours we finally started to set up on a pitch of our choosing. By the end of the afternoon we were all tired, a little sunburnt and glad to have almost finished. The final touches could wait until the next day. At least the motorhome was parked behind the Vulcan Village so we didn’t need to go off site.
Saturday was a lovely bright morning and with the last details completed we opened to the public who were starting to stream in. It was good to see familiar faces from previous years and it was evident that folks had travelled some distance to the show. One chap had flown in from Australia so that he could see the Vulcan fly……how about that for dedication.
The VV was busy all morning and with our Vulcan due to display just after 2pm we started to take quick lunch breaks. Kate and I were in the motorhome and were vaguely aware of a jet flying in the background when there was a ‘crump’, shouts from the crowd of ‘he’s crashed’ as we rushed outside to see a huge pall of black smoke rising from just outside the airfield.
A Hawker Hunter, piloted by Andy Hill, had failed to pull out of a loop and crashed onto the main road and several cars.
The commentator told everyone to stay where they were and the crowd went into a shocked silence as the sound of two-tones from the emergency vehicles started.
I think everyone was in a state of shock with many people, including grown men, in tears. One chap was crying on Kate’s shoulder as she tried to comfort him and we had a couple of small boys who were very distressed and were taken into the shelter between our motorhome and the tent so that they were isolated from the scenes.
The crash happened on the main A27 right by the entrance road to the airfield and so the whole airfield was put into ‘lockdown’. No vehicles could leave and so everyone just had to sit it out until further instructions came. All flying was put on hold as there was now no emergency cover on the airfield.
By this time our Vulcan was circling out over the sea waiting for instruction from ATC. The Sea Vixen that had been due to display flew over at height and after a while it was announced the Vulcan would do a flypast in tribute to the victims of the crash. Bill Ramsey, captain of ‘558, carried out the perfect tribute, flying at 1000ft, straight and slow down the runway track and pulling gently away to the south to a spontaneous round of applause from the crowd. With emotions running high it was all too much for many and burly men, one of them a prison officer, so no wimp, were in floods of tears.
The flags that we had been flying to mark the Vulcan Village were taken down and one re-erected at half mast in honour of those we now knew were dead.
Everyone got stuck in again and we carried on trading although the usual humour and banter had gone. With no one being able to leave the site, people wanted to take their minds off the awful things that were happening close by, so in the best British tradition they kept on shopping.
It was hot and sunny but people sat quietly, some trying to find what shade they could, waiting for news which came over the PA system every half hour.
I have to pay tribute to the huge crowd. They showed the best of British stoicism by just sitting and waiting patiently until things became clearer. There were no moans or complaints about having to wait. The crowd just accepted whatever they were told and when exits were eventually opened to allow them to leave there seemed to be a slow exit, with many just sitting on the grass allowing the queues to clear.
By this time the organisers had announced that the following days show was cancelled so we started to pack up the stock and dismantle the tents. Our team left to join the queues and make their way home to to wherever they were staying while we stayed on the airfield as planned.
We woke to a very quiet airfield. A few traders were arriving to dismantle stands, one was tipping box after box of fresh oranges into a waste bin. The site would normally be abuzz with noise and excitement at that time on a Sunday morning but with the wind blowing rubbish around and heavy rain starting to fall there was an air of desolation that matched our mood.
I rang the site we had booked and asked if we could arrive a day earlier than planned. When I explained why, Mrs Wilson readily agreed even if they might be above the numbers allowed.
After a late breakfast we made our way across the airfield and were directed across the runway and up a track that took us through the woods and out onto the A27 a few hundred yards past the crash scene. We drove through the rain to Cobnor and as we arrived the sky brightened and the rain stopped.