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Emotional unveiling of airport memorial

Pauline Nixon, grateful for the community to have come together to make the memorial a reality - Photo: Malcolm Younger/Millgaet Media

Survivors and relatives of loved ones lost in Shetland air tragedies joined the local community on Saturday to unveil a memorial to commemorate their fathers, husbands and sons.

The Sumburgh Airport Memorial remembers the 79 men who lost their lives in four incidents: the 1979 Dan Air tragedy, the 1986 Chinook Helicopter disaster, the helicopter accident at the Brent Spar installation on 25 July 1990, and another at the Cormorant Alpha platform on 14 March 1992.

Superintendent Aubrey Jamieson of the fishermen’s mission in Shetland led the dedication, before Pauline Nixon and coastguard helicopter chief crewman Dave Ellis officially unveiled the memorial.

Relatives of those who died in the Chinook disaster - Photo: Malcolm Younger/Millgaet Media

Mrs Nixon, the widow of Neville Nixon, co-pilot of the Chinook helicopter that plunged into the sea 2.5 miles off Sumburgh on 6 November 1986, with the deaths of 45 people on board, was instrumental in getting the memorial built.

Ellis said: “When Pauline Nixon arrived in Shetland 18 months ago and asked if anything had been organised for the 25th anniversary of the Chinook disaster, it turned out that it hadn’t.

“We took her for a flight on the actual date of the anniversary and she was able to put a wreath in the water.

“Before she left Shetland she asked me if I would promise to organise a memorial, and that instigated it.”

Eighteen months and countless fundraising events later the community and local businesses had raised more than £18,000 for a horseshoe shaped memorial built by stonemason Tom Jamieson and his colleagues.

It will serve as a fitting reminder of the tragedies and give families and members of the community closely involved in the rescue efforts a place where they can reflect and mourn.

Keith Dyer, from Ramsgate in the south of England, said the memorial meant a lot to him.

He was one of the passengers who survived Dan Air flight 0034 that failed to take off from Sumburgh airport on 31 July 1979, and then plunged into the sea with the loss of 17 lives.

Recalling the dreadful events of that day, he said: “It was extremely stormy and rough.

The Sumburgh Airport Memorial committee (from left to right): Allison Duncan, Aubrey Jamieson, Alan Sinclair, Nigal Flaws (chairman), Dave Ellis (treasurer), Pauline Nixon, Terry Williamson, Norman Sineath, Ronnie Leslie and Tom Jamieson. Also on the committee, but not on the photo, was Jim Livett - Photo: Malcolm Younger/Millgaet Media

“I remember we were sitting at the end of the runway, the pilots were gathering up refs and then we headed off down the runway but we never manage to take off, so the pilots tried to abort the plane, but we hit the end of the runway and landed in the sea.

“The plane started to break up immediately, the first wave that came in was up to my waist and the second wave came up to my neck. Very few of us had time to put on lifejackets.

“I swam over the top of the seats until I got to the backdoor, then got out through the backdoor, and swam ashore. Lucky for me I was a very good swimmer and a few years younger.

“Sadly, 17 young men lost their lives on that day. I thank the Good Lord that I am still here today to come back to remember them.”

Pauline Nixon said the “beautiful memorial” means the 79 men lost will never be forgotten.

“This now means there is a focus and a place for myself and any other family involved to come back and remember their loved ones,” she said.

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