Eagle remembered, 25 years on

Eagle remembered, 25 years on

Photos: Senior Constable Steve Smith, Auckland Forensic Imaging

A quarter of a century after the Eagle helicopter tragedy, current and former crew, families and friends gathered to remember those lost.

Sergeant Lindsay (Lou) Grant, Constable Alastair Sampson and civilian pilot Ross Harvey died when the Police helicopter collided with a traffic spotter plane above Auckland’s Southern Motorway at 5.34pm on 26 November 1993. The plane pilot, Allan Connors, also died.

At 5.30pm on Monday around 100 people gathered at the Eagle memorial at the Air Response Unit base at Auckland’s Marine Rescue Centre at Mechanics Bay.

Assistant Commissioner Bill Searle, representing Commissioner Mike Bush, said the tragedy was a landmark event for Police – “It’s the sort of event that you remember where you were when you heard about it”.

eagle wreath

 

He said the men had made the ultimate sacrifice while working to keep people safe – and acknowledged the serving and former Eagle crew members who had kept the work going. “That’s also in a way a tribute to those who have gone before”.

Senior Constable Barry Gallagher, one of the longest-serving current crew members, and retired Sergeant Brian Pilkington – the unit’s 2IC on the day of the tragedy - also spoke about the men they knew. Barry quoted lines from the poem A Hero's Welcome.

A wreath was laid by the newest crew member, Constable Joe Tompsett.

One of the current Eagle helicopters made a fly-past in tribute at the conclusion of a minute’s silence and Pipe Major Stewart Hobson of the Auckland Police Pipe Band played Flowers of the Forest to end proceedings.

Barry, who was relieving with the unit in 1993 and joined full-time in 1994, says they have a small ceremony every 26 November - and that to have so many family and friends there this year was very special.

"I'm sure the guys would have been proud of how well attended it was," he said. "Lou Grant was a real pioneer, who set the Eagle up. He'd be proud of what's been achieved by the unit."

Marine Rescue Centre O/C Senior Sergeant Alan Rowland says the commemoration went very well – thanks in no small part to Auckland Police Chaplain Rev Diana Rattray, who led the service and provided advice and support in the preparation of the event.

“The service as a whole was largely Diana’s work and a tribute to her knowledge and experience,” says Alan.

“I was with the crew, family and friends for about two hours after the service – all were very complimentary and appreciative.”


"So take your place of honour, among those who have gone before

And know you will be remembered, for now and ever more"

- from A Hero's Welcome, by Robert Longley