One beautiful, sunny afternoon in August 2011 I was on a beach with friends, watching my husband, Jon Egging, perform at an air show near Bournemouth. I knew something wasn’t right when he didn’t telephone me afterwards from the airfield. He always called me when he landed to say he was safe but this time my mobile stayed silent. Because I was watching the display from the beach, I hadn’t seen the crash that killed him.
Jon was a pilot with the Royal Air Force Red Arrows. He was 33 and coming to the end of his first year with the aerobatic team. I watched him perform many times but the Bournemouth Air Festival was always one of the highlights of the season. The main display takes place along the seafront, which is a spectacular backdrop for an airshow but a few miles from Bournemouth Airport, where the team was based that day.
I had been especially excited when I woke that morning because the weather had been atrocious, and, for once, the skies were clear. That meant the Reds could perform their full display, not hampered by the cloud cover that can restrict their formations. So this would be the first time I had watched Jon complete the full display.
The inquest later heard that as the Red Arrows approached the airport to land, Jon blacked out due to the effects of G-force. Moments later his Hawk T1 aircraft crashed into a field and he was pronounced dead at the scene.
The rest of that time was all a bit of a blur but I remember the support and help I received from so many of Jon’s friends and colleagues. He loved seeing the world from above and was fulfilling a dream flying with the Red Arrows. Being in the air was so cathartic for him.
I met Jon at Southampton University, where I was studying archaeology. There were lots of clubs and societies to join but the air squadron caught my eye. To be honest, flying didn’t come naturally to me because I found it quite scary. I think my instructor realised I wasn’t a pilot when we were training over Salisbury Plain. I was more interested in the archaeological features below than trying to fly straight and level.
Jon was a dynamic, self-assured man who was also very welcoming. He was extremely motivated. Flying was what made him tick, and, after university, he went straight to RAF College Cranwell for officer training. He became an instructor on Hawk training jets and later flew a Harrier in Afghanistan, before joining the Red Arrows in 2010. I was working as an archaeologist at the British Museum and we eventually settled down in a little cottage in Rutland, close to Jon’s base. We married in June 2010 at our village church and loved being part of the community there.
When we were at home together, Jon and I sometimes talked about the idea of setting up a charity to help young people achieve their full potential. Every time Jon pulled on his red flying suit, it was such a powerful magnet. People wanted to listen to what he had to say and looked up to him. We discussed how this might be harnessed to help youngsters build confidence and self-esteem.
Setting up a charity in Jon’s name helped me get through the sadness and negativity. I work for the charity full time now and we have already helped 50 young people to better their lives through our Blue Skies programme.
Since the accident I have watched the Red Arrows perform at other events. It was a little strange but the team has helped me so much since Jon died. They have always been very supportive.
I will always remember the special times I shared with Jon and the essence of the man – he was my best friend, husband and supporter. I’m sure that he would have wanted me to carry on with that idea we shared together to help other youngsters fulfil their own dreams.