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Sub-hunting aircrewman honoured by family of tragic predecessor

8 March 2024
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More than 40 years since a Royal Navy aircrewman lost his life in a horrific mid-air collision, his widow returned for an emotional visit to his squadron.

Leading Aircrewman Ian Marchment was one of five aircrew killed when two Sea King helicopters collided and crashed into the sea on March 6, 1981. They were both flying in poor visibility from aircraft carrier HMS Invincible.

All five crew – Lieutenant Commander David Roue, Lieutenant Paul Littleton, Sub-Lieutenant Robert Bateman and Sub-Lieutenant Marcus McDonald plus Ian – were serving with 820 Naval Air Squadron based now, as then, at RNAS Culdrose.

Joined by her the couple’s son Peter Marchment, who was just eight months old when his father was killed, Ian’s widow Heather Brown laid a wreath to remember all five men when the family returned to the Cornish air station to present a trophy awarded in the aircrewman’s name.

“I’ve had mixed emotions,” said Mrs Brown, reflecting on her return to Helston. “I am proud to have been able to do it and proud for my family to be a part of that. I always wanted to return to the base, but it has been emotional coming back.

“I know Ian was happy when he died, doing a job he loved. Yes, the accident might not have happened, but he knew – and lived with – those risks. It is something I think about but you have to live for today.”

Immediately following the tragedy, a trophy was created at Culdrose in memory of LACMN Marchment for the Sea King Force, which Mrs Brown presented the following year.

With Sea Kings have passed into history, but the Marchment trophy has been revived by their successor, the Merlin Helicopter Force.

It was presented by Peter Marchment to the Merlin aircrewman who has shown outstanding performance in anti-submarine warfare operations over the past year: Petty Officer Aircrewman Nathan Allen for his role with 814 Naval Air Squadron’s Mohawk Flight in locating and tracking submarines during live operations.

Mr Marchment, who was accompanied by his wife and children, said it was moving to be back in a place where his father worked and lived all those years ago.

 

In 1981, the Marchment family lived in Bulwark Road in Helston. The couple were both just 23 years old and Peter had been born the previous year.

 “We were just starting out in life,” said Mrs Brown. “Ian had joined the Royal Navy from the age of 16 and he’d changed over to the Fleet Air Arm. That’s when he was really happy and he came into his own. This was something he’d seen and got interested in and he wanted to become an officer.

“They flew out on the Thursday up to Portsmouth. The next day they were doing their sorties and visibility was poor. That’s when the accident happened.

“I was getting ready to drive to Cheltenham the next day, when I saw the news on the television and there was a knock at the door. It was the naval padre. I didn’t really understand what was happening on the news and he just flew past me and turned the TV off. I can remember it quite vividly.

“I stayed on in Helston for three and half years and I made lots of friends. It was a very friendly community so I have lots of happy memories too. I stayed in touch with Ian’s family too.

“I am quite a strong person really and I grieve privately in my own way. It did make me realise how life is short and you don’t know what’s around the corner.”
The family were shown around 820 Naval Air Squadron to see how it is today, a chalice engraved with LACMN Marchment’s name, which is still used in church ceremonies.

The visit ended with a short remembrance service and wreath-laying at the air station’s memorial garden.

 

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