Over the past several years of flying, I have had the privilege of making what for me is a routine flight into an unforgettable memory for my passengers.
A birthday treat, anniversary gift, sighting of the new moon for the onset of Ramadan, scattering of ashes of a loved one over a chosen area, an orbit over a house or a place where a marriage proposal was made decades ago to name a few, but one stands out which was a very humbling and sombre experience, yet extremely gratifying.
The brief stated that the passenger would like to see the Normandy beaches enroute to Deauville from London
I sat down with him to ask what he would like to see in particular. It turned out that his father had been a member of the allied forces who took part in the D-day landings and on the 69th anniversary of this event; he had bought his grandson to see the arena which changed the course of the war.
I made a call to the French ATC controlling that section and with their prompt approval, with my colleague Mike Price in the left seat and I manning the radios, we got airborne towards the first section of the French coast codenamed Utah. Proceeding low level, we flew abeam Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. It was low tide and the sheer expanse of the beaches really hit home what a perilous task the D-Day landings had been. In the distance, every coastal town was having remembrance ceremonies with WW2 tanks and other armaments on the beaches, flags raised high and an array of people in costumes pertinent to that era. A crackle on the radio informed us that a Spitfire had just taken off from Caen and having informed our passengers to keep a good look-out, we were treated to the magnificent sight of the Spitfire passing abeam.
The remnants of the Phoenix Caissons (retaining structures)
An engineering feat constructed in record time after the landings to form a breakwater of about 5 miles providing calm waters for a harbour measuring the size of 1,000 football fields, are the last vestiges look set to disappear within the next several years and were an incredible sight to see.
Seeing the emotion and sheer gratitude on our passenger upon landing at Deauville made us realise that this had not been a routine flight but a window into the past and a memory forever imprinted on all those on board.