declared April 2008
"My introduction to the perils of carrier flying was memorable, to say the least. I can recall it to this day. I had landed onboard for the first time on the 11th November 1970, and flown an LLAI sortie from HMS Eagle on the 12th, but from the sanctity of the coalhole had not seen much. Then dawned Friday the 13th! I asked a senior observer, Ed Hughes I think, "where was this place Goofers where I could watch the action," and he kindly offered to show me. As we clambered up there, just before we arrived we heard the thud of the first Vixen being boosted off the catapult. Then my friend, and colleague from 141 AWF course, Bruce Harrison, with his RAF observer Geoff Hamlyn, was positioned on the bow cat and I watched the first launch I had ever seen. I was told it was only his 2nd launch. The aircraft pitched up and after staggering into the air the left wing dropped and the cab (aircraft) hit the water with about 45° nose down and 90° bank. Shortly before the wing hit the sea, [later shown to be 2 camera frames!] Geoff ejected. Bruce unfortunately was lost. Geoff bounced off the sea like a skipping stone several times before stopping.
The plane guard reacted immediately and positioned itself directly over Geoff who was still strapped in his seat and destined for a rapid descent. The crewman/diver jumped about 80' down onto Geoff and instantly pulled his Mae West (life jacket) toggle, thus ensuring he didn't sink, and then turned his QRB (Parachute Quick Release Box) to release the seat, very quick thinking and brave actions indeed. He then got a strop round him and he was recovered into the plane guard helicopter, and thence, in a stretcher, put onto the deck. I can remember Geoff waving from the stretcher, on the way to Sick Bay, to indicate that he was [relatively] OK.
I believe he sustained 12 compression fractures which lost him 2 inches of height, rendering him then shorter than his wife! The number of bangouts (ejections) where the chute doesn't deploy but the occupant survives must be few. There was a funeral for Bruce at sea later that day, and I was off the deck again on the 14th, with my straps even tighter and my little eyes watching the A.I. (Attitude Indicator) and the A.S.I. (Air Speed Indicator) like a hawk! What an intro.
After a period of recovery Geoff was just back being re-familiarised at RNAS Yeovilton when he featured in accident I.D. no 55 and went out (ejected) again, this time with the luxury of a parachute to assist his landing.
The next couple of times on Goofers, as Duty Boy myself, I witnessed minor incidents, the most spectacular of which was Lt. John Eyton-Jones' attempts to land with a severely salted up windscreen that he could not clear. On his 4th attempt he was a long way to the right of the centreline. I ducked behind the parapet and just peered over the edge at the ensuing mayhem. He hit a Buccaneer slipper tank, a Gannet wingfold knuckle, a tractor and several other items of kit before staggering off the angle, just airborne. The end of the cab's (aircraft's) wing was split open like a peeled banana, but he still had control so was finally sent to RAF Valley where he arrived safely.
As a postscript a few years later at RAF Chivenor one Friday night, my cabin mate in HMS Eagle, Lt. (P) Marcus Edwards, arrived flying an RAF communications squadron aircraft, with his navigator Geoff Hamlyn, and found me lurking in the bar. A Squadron Leader, who had recently made a controlled ejection, was poncing about, surrounded by acolytes, showing off his Martin Baker tie. As I got the beers in for Marcus, Geoff and myself I was delighted to casually let slip that there was a Beagle Basset navigator sitting in the corner who's got a dressing gown made of that material."