Photo gallery: Aylsham ceremony honours tragic heroism of RAF Coltishall Sea King winchman
17:53 19 November 2012
Archant Norfolk 2012
A double tragedy and act of supreme heroism were remembered at a short but poignant ceremony in Aylsham Cemetery this morning.
A crew member stood in the open doorway of an RAF Sea King helicopter and saluted as it passed over the grave of master air loadmaster Dave Bullock, who had lived in the town with his wife and two young children.
He died, aged 38, on November 18 1980, when his winch snapped as he tried to rescue an American pilot from the North Sea, a mile off Winterton.
Among those gathered at his graveside was Nanette Olson, widow of Lt Col William Olson, whose life Mr Bullock had desperately tried to save in strong winds and heavy seas.
Lt Col Olson had parachuted from his aircraft after it was in collision with another US Air Force A-10 “tankbuster” jet over Itteringham.
A Sea King rescue helicopter was scrambled from RAF Coltishall and Mr Bullock was winched down to try and pluck the American to safety in winds gusting at 40-45 knots and waves of up to 15ft.
But he became entangled in the pilot’s parachute lines and the weight of the two men and waterlogged parachute snapped the steel winch cable as rescuers tried to haul them up.
The pair fell back into the sea and were blown along by the dragging parachute. They were eventually recovered by frogmen but were pronounced dead on arrival at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.
Yesterday’s ceremony was organised by the Spirit of Coltishall Association, which aims to preserve the history and memories of the former RAF base.
Association members began staging the commemoration five years ago to make sure Mr Bullock’s heroism was never forgotten, according to chairman Dave Welsh.
Two years ago Mrs Olson, who lives in Hethersett, became aware of the ceremony and she attended it last year for the first time. Her husband, who had been 39, also left two young children.
She placed a fresh posy of flowers on Mr Bullock’s grave. Afterwards, she said: “I know he was doing his job but on that particular day he was trying to save my Bill. How do you ever forget that? It’s lovely to come here and have a little moment to remember.”
During the short service Association chaplain Rev Elizabeth Bailey also reminded those present that Mr Bullock had been awarded several posthumous honours, including the George Medal, given for outstanding acts of bravery.
John Welton played a bagpipe lament and the Royal British Legion Coltishall and District branch standard was lowered by bearer Bob Jennings. Among tributes laid was one from Mr Bullock’s 202 Squadron and its Association, placed by Wg Cdr Peter Chadwick who remembered him as a: “loyal, brave, hard-working man and a very good winchman.”