Bob Henderson, second from right, was a member of 443 Squadron, killed in a 1994 helicopter crash near Saint John, N.B. (Contributed by Sharyl-Ann Henderson)

‘He would be so honoured’: Squadron mate looks to memorialize pilots killed in Sea King crash

Fellow airman, widow of pilot killed in 1994 crash petition for memorial sign along Pat Bay Highway

When the Royal Canadian Air Force retires the fleet of CH-124 Sea King helicopters that has served them since the early ‘60s, a memorial of sorts will take place complete with flypast and ceremony.

But, former Sea King pilot Jim Newton wants to see two of his fellow airmen honoured as well – Bob Henderson and Wally Sweetman, who were killed on April 28, 1994, when a fire broke out aboard the Sea King they were flying, crashing into a hillside near Saint John, N.B.

“It was brutal,” Newton recalls of the crash.

“They were two of our mentors, people that we totally looked up to,” he says of the pair who trained him as members of 443 Squadron in Pat Bay. “It was completely demoralizing.”

Wally Sweetman, a pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force, was killed in April of 1994 when the helicopter he was piloting with squadron mate Bob Henderson crashed near Saint John, New Brunswick. (Contributed/Jim Newton)

In honour of their service, Newton wrote to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure in late spring requesting a sign be erected on the side of the Pat Bay Highway with their names.

Travelling through California on a road trip with his kids earlier this year, Newton was struck by how many signs he passed memorializing American veterans.

“I couldn’t get it out of my brain to do one for Bob and Wally,” he says.

RELATED: Royal Canadian Air Force retires CH-124 Sea King helicopters

Members of the Royal Canadian Air Force perform maintenance on a member of the CH-124 Sea King helicopter fleet aboard HMCS Annapolis in 1993. (Contributed/Jim Newton)

The response from the government has been slow – Newton had hoped to have something ready to coincide with the retirement parade Dec. 1 – but he is not letting that deter him, particularly now that he has the support of Henderson’s widow, Sharyl-Ann.

“Bob was a very dedicated pilot,” she says. “He always told me he would never get in an aircraft he didn’t feel safe in, so I never anticipated something like that would happen.”

Originally from Nova Scotia – where half the Sea King fleet was based – the couple had made Victoria their home when Bob was stationed at 443.

Suddenly left widowed with three teenage children, Sharyl-Ann said she never considered leaving the Island. It was at her cottage in Nova Scotia this summer where she got the call from Newton asking if she would be in favour of the project.

Her response: “Of course, Bob would be so honoured.”

RELATED: New navy helicopter arrives at Sidney base

Jim Newton (left) stands with Sharyl-Ann Henderson, whose late husband Bob was killed in a helicopter crash near Saint John, New Brunswick while on duty with the Royal Canadian Air Force. The pair are trying to get a memorial sign erected along the Pat Bay Highway in honour of Bob and fellow pilot Wally Sweetman, members of 443 Squadron in Victoria, who were mentors to Newton as a young pilot. (Contributed/Jim Newton)

Other people move on because it doesn’t mean that much to them, she says, of losing a loved one. And, being a military wife she thinks the grieving process has taken longer because “you get used to them being away for long periods of time” and forget they won’t be coming home in a few months time.

“Sometimes you think no one even remembers,” she says over the phone some 25 years later.

“When your husband dies like that, it changes your whole future and you live with it every day.”

Sharyl-Ann says driving along Pat Bay Highway and seeing a sign dedicated to Bob and Wally would be “a nice reminder” but stresses all serving members who have died on duty need to be acknowledged.

At the time of the crash there was some controversy surrounding the safety of the helicopters, then more than 30 years old.

“They should have been retired a long time ago,” Newton says of the Sea Kings, passionate about getting the memorial in place, a small offering to the two men who shaped who he became.

“I want a permanent memorial sign,” he says. “They were two of the best pilots in the country.”


@kristyn_anthony
kristyn.anthony@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

kristyn.anthony@blackpress.ca

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Victoria artist in residence seeks seniors to share stories of life with students

The meeting is part of an intergenerational project focusing on face-to-face conversations

Shortlisted options for Beacon Wharf replacement cost between $6.3 and $14.2 million

Select committee will investigate various questions around proposed replacement of iconic wharf

Dozen Metchosin ‘barn cats’ on the hunt for new homes

Broken Promises Animal Rescue hoping to re-home feral cats

Victoria votes to slash sister city celebrations

Victoria will only celebrate its anniversary with Morioka, Japan this year

Province’s oldest lawyer shares advice for living well at her 100th birthday party

Firefighters bring Constance Isherwood a cake with 100 birthday candles

Women take centre stage at NHL all-star skills competition

Canada beat the United States 2-1 in a spirited 3-on-3 game between female players Friday night

BCLC opens novelty bet on Harry and Meghan moving to the west coast

Meanwhile, real estate agency points to four possible homes for the family

Canada slips in global corruption ranking in aftermath of SNC-Lavalin scandal

The country obtained a score of 77, which places it at the top in the Americas

Wuhan bans cars, Hong Kong closes schools as coronavirus spreads

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said her government will raise its response level to emergency, highest one

Vernon woman suing McDonald’s for spilled coffee

Woman seeking nearly $10K, says employee failed to put lid on properly

Diners’ health tax not catching on in B.C., restaurant group says

Small businesses look for options to cover employer health tax

B.C. comic wins judgment after club owner slaps cellphone out of his hands

Incident happened last summer when Garrett Clark was performing in Abbotsford

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Jan. 21

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Most Read