Karl Drage's 2010 blogGAR Entries

AUG 17 2010
Bizarre goings on in Sussex

Sunday 15th August has to go down as my most bizarre airshow to date. The venue was one that I'd wanted to try for a few years, ever since seeing some of Jenny Coffey's shots taken from there in 2007; Beachy Head for Eastbourne's Airbourne.

Now Beachy Head is quite a distance to the west of the datum - well outside of the area the aircraft would be displaying in, and I knew that, but what I was prepared to take a chance on was that the display items might run in to or out from their displays close to the cliffs, meaning that all too elusive photo opportunities just might be presented.

The Drage clan arrived at the public car park next to the Beachy Head pub at about 1030, and, having no idea of where we wanted to be, headed further west on foot scouting out the various areas with potential. One 'sight' immediately struck us. That of a big red and white lighthouse at the western extreme of Beachy Head itself. To the right (looking west) was a big chalk cliff face which seemed to provide a natural arc for aircraft to run in around. We had no doubt that that was the scene we wanted to capture.

Now of course, the thing that Beachy Head is unquestionably most notorious for is the fact that it's a suicide hotspot. Several areas along the cliff tops were smattered with crosses, bunches of flowers and other items remembering those who'd decided that they'd had enough. Peering down over the edge, I couldn't help but think, 'there has to be a better way to go than that, surely?!?' Little did we realise what would unfold later that day, and indeed continue unfolding over the next 24 hours!

Content with where we wanted to be, we headed back to the car to have a bite to eat before taking the camera bags down and getting set up. Bizarrely on the way back to the car for the first time, Flt Lt Tom Bould, 2010 RAF Tucano Display Pilot, happened to be out for a run across the tops with one of his comrades from Linton, and we spotted one another! We had a quick chat and Tom and his wingman continued on their way.

Lunch consumed, we figured we'd better take up out position, particularly since the numbers of people wandering around seemed to be on the increase. We setup camp where we wanted to be, but curiously no-one else had. All of the people moving around were simply passing through. Were we in the wrong spot? Only time would tell.

With about 30 minutes to go before the scheduled start time, Dad remembered that I'd not picked the scanner up, and, as I was keen to listen to the display frequency to hear which direction people would be running in and out from, I made the trek back to the car to get it. It was on my way back that I first spotted a number of police vehicles parked up in one of the car parks further down the hill. Then I spotted a man in a red polo shirt having a long distance chat with a woman who was stood on the cliff edge, on the wrong side of the 'token' wire fence that was there. As I got closer I could read the word 'CHAPLAIN' in yellow letters on the back of his shirt. We had someone who was considering jumping.

As I walked past I heard her say, "He said he'd take me back". Clearly a simple case of unrequited love, I assumed.

They were just up the hill from where we were camped out. All the time she was speaking to the Chaplain she had a tight hold of the top wire on the fence. She didn't appear to be much of a fan of heights and I was quite confident that she wouldn't go through with it on that basis.

The police moved up towards where we were and started to setup an exclusion zone around her, directing the passers by around her. Curiously they seemed quite happy with where we were, despite the fact that we were clearly sat within the area that no-one else was allowed within! We were quite thankful and grateful that we were, to be honest!

1330 came around and the display began with the Gnat Duo. They never came close and neither did any of the other acts that followed for the next hour or so. The woman was now back on the safe side of the fence, sat down and leaning up against it, and the Chaplain had been replaced by a plain clothed man who sat down on the grass - still maintaining a distance - to talk to her. She was virtually chain smoking.

Eventually some HM Coastguard workers appeared with sledge hammers and big metal stakes, around which 'Police tape' was erected on the two extreme sides. They didn't have enough to complete the 'box' at that point in time, so we got a further reprieve.

Finally we did get some passing trade - the Catalina. In my panic, and acutely aware that it was a big aircraft, I picked up the body with the 120-300mm lens on it, rather than the 400mm. That was a mistake, albeit not disastrous.

With the arrival of another reel of tape we were finally asked to move, and, typically, as we were in the process of doing so, the Blades flew right past us, tight, close in, smoking and nailed to the sea. I wasn't a happy camper.

Undoubtedly the most interesting sight in the skies of the day was when Peter Teichman and P-51 Jumpin' Jacques joined forces with Mitch Beulen and his Belgian Air Component F-16. Unfortunately the two were never in the best position for us, but it was nice to see all the same.

Guy Westgate and Pete Wells with the Twister Duo did at least try to provide us with some decent photo opportunities, but they were taking such a battering from the off-land wind that they were forced to pull out before they got to us. Pete did at least manage to give us a good look at his top surfaces!

Further up the hill, the woman now had a blanket to keep her warm and a hot drink in a mug, and a second man had joined the conversation.

Enter the saviour of the day, Flt Lt Tom Bould! His passes on the way in and out pretty much made the 304 mile round trip and five and a half hours on the road worthwhile! Just one image for now though as I may well have another use for the others….

The woman decided she'd had enough and walked away from the edge with the two men's arms around her shoulders; a pleasing outcome for all concerned. The whole stand-off had lasted more than three hours.

In the meantime the display continued and for one brief moment I did get extremely excited as the Buchon headed towards us from very low down. Sadly he pulled out, rolling over the top of us before dropping back in. His wingman in the Spitfire T.9 did at least stay low, but he was just a bit too far out…

That just left the Typhoon and then the Hurribomber to close proceedings; neither coming anywhere near us.

As we drove home we contemplated how weird the day had been. Little did we know what was going to emerge the next lunchtime….

I'd posted the tale of my day on the GAR staff forum, so everyone knew what we'd experienced. Then Geoff posted a reply which completely stopped me in my tracks. It was a link to a page on the Daily Mail website where the headline was "Sally Challen in Beachy Head suicide threat after 'killing husband with hammer'." She'd allegedly confessed to killing him while the stand-off played out.

At no stage had it so much as entered any of our heads that we could have been sitting a matter of metres away from a murderer. Never did I ever imagine that those words, "He said he'd take me back", were some kind of justification for taking a hammer to her husband's head….

GAR wants to interact with its readers so if you have a question for the author or a comment to make on this feature, please click on the button below. The best comments will appear right here on GAR.

Deprecated: mysql_connect(): The mysql extension is deprecated and will be removed in the future: use mysqli or PDO instead in /var/sites/g/globalaviationresource.com/public_html/comments/displaycomments.php on line 8

Global Aviation Resource's photographic and written work is subject to copyright and may not be reproduced or distributed in any form without express written permission.

If you would like to discuss using any of our imagery or feature content please contact us.