Special bond between Bournemouth's Air Festival and Jon Egging's family help keep his memory alive
PUBLISHED: 15:54 27 August 2014 | UPDATED: 15:54 27 August 2014
When Red Arrows pilot Jon Egging was killed at Bournemouth's Air Festival three years ago it could have signalled the end of an era. But miraculously out of the tragedy of his death, a special bond has developed with his family that helps keep Jon's memory alive
Terry Trevett struggles for words as he recalls the terrible day three summers ago when Red Arrow’s pilot Jon Egging’s plane smashed into fields near Bournemouth airport following a breathtaking display at the town’s annual Air Festival.
Terry, the long-standing chairman of the Bournemouth Red Arrows Association, was listening to radio exchanges between the pilots and the control tower, as the team headed back to their temporary base.
“I realised something terrible had happened when I heard a message saying the situation on the ground was terminal.”
What had seemed such a happy, successful afternoon was gradually eclipsed by a growing sense of foreboding as the facts about the terrible accident began to emerge.
Flt-Lt Egging – bright, brilliant and just 33-years-old - had been killed instantly as his Hawk jet hit the ground at around 370 mph. An inquest would later hear that he had probably “almost blacked out” as a result of extreme G-forces.
“The hours after the accident were very difficult,” says Terry. “It took a while to fully take on board the tragedy of what had happened.”
Did he fear it might be the end of the Red Arrows? “That I’m afraid was the natural reaction,” he replies quietly.
Happily, he says, he could not have been more wrong and now 77-year-old Terry believes that out of adversity a special relationship has been forged.
In the aftermath of the crash the town rallied round to take Egging’s grieving widow, Emma, and his mother, Dawn, to their hearts and support the Red Arrows.
Thousands of pounds were raised in memory of the brilliant young pilot and a memorial to him now stands proud on Bournemouth’s East Cliff.
At Emma’s request the five-metre-high work was based on designs by local schoolchildren and created by artist Tim Ward. It depicts three Red Arrow jets soaring into the sky and bears a plaque which reads: “Always follow your dreams. Blue skies”.
Meanwhile a trust set up in Jon’s name now helps disadvantaged young people reach their full potential and achieve a brighter future.
Terry says he didn’t know Jon Egging well but had chatted with him at a pre-festival barbecue before the crash. “He so fitted into the Reds. He had all the natural qualities that are required to become a member of such a prestigious team.
“Obviously over the years I’ve met many of the Red Arrows pilots but you rarely meet their families, but I’ve got to know Jon’s mum and widow pretty well and I can tell you they are very special people.” Now, following a record-breaking event last year, Bournemouth is gearing up for its biggest and best Air Festival ever.
Highlights of the show, which runs from Thursday 28th until Sunday 31st August, include a Battle of Britain memorial fly past, a return of the only flying example of a Vulcan bomber, a Typhoon and a breathtaking display by the RAF Falcons parachute team.
There’s much more of course but for many of the 1.5 million spectators expected to crowd the cliff-top and beaches, it will be the daily appearances - more than ever before - by the Red Arrows that will make the show an absolute must.
The team is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and its links with the town have never been closer. And no one is more delighted than Terry whose own connections with the display team dates back to 1982 when a friend invited him to watch them in action at a practice day at RAF Kemble in Gloucestershire.
“It was incredibly inspiring to watch,” says Terry, “It’s a day I will never forget.”
The Red Arrows had already been regular visitors to Bournemouth since 1965 and when in 1994 a financial crisis hit the town’s Carnival Committee and the annual display was cancelled, Terry and five friends associated with Bournemouth Flying Club decided to step in.
So it was that on the 17th October 1994 the seeds of the Bournemouth Red Arrows Association (BRAA) were sown. As he prepares for the BRAA’s own 20th anniversary celebrations, Terry recalls how they raised the money.
“We decided that we had to do what we could to get them back for the following year. We all put our hands in our pockets for a few bob and then went cap in hand to anyone we thought might help.”
In 1995 the Reds returned and at the end of the day the new Bournemouth Red Arrows Association found they were actually in the black to the tune of £5.84p.
“It gave us the spur to carry on,” says Terry. “We hadn’t made a loss so we decided to try again.”
The rest, as they say, is history and with Bournemouth Council launching what has arguably become the most high-profile Air Festival in the country in 2008 and the special relationship that has grown following Jon’s crash, the Red Arrows have become inextricably linked with the town.
The Bournemouth Red Arrows Association has so far raised around £199,000. Terry says he feels it will be particularly fitting if it breaks the £200,000 barrier in its 20th year.
Among those at the 2014 Air Festival will be 98-year-old former forces sweetheart and dancer Betty Hockey. Bournemouth-based Betty was part of wartime concert party The Nonstops, which got its name from its habit of playing without an interval. They staged more than 1,500 shows for RAF and American Air Force troops stationed around the south coast. “I was the naughty one doing the can-can,” she laughs.
Her association with the Red Arrows keeps those links with brave young flyers alive. “I think they’re marvelous,” says Betty, who is a regular guest at the Bournemouth Red Arrows Association annual barbecue. “I always make the effort to see the Red Arrows when they come to Bournemouth. Their display is so thrilling.”