FORMER helicopter pilot on the original HMS Protector (as remembered in stones on the Camber opposite Stanley) Michael Apps, and his wife Elizabeth, paid a visit to Stanley on Celebrity Eclipse this week. The couple, who had been to Long Island Farm for a shore excursion, were told by the owner Glenda Watson they should alert the newspaper to their presence – which happily they did.
Michael explained that in 1955 Protector was based in Stanley Harbour but he would fly all around the Islands. He was one of four aircrew on the vessel. One particularly interesting story involved receiving an SOS from London to say famous mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary and Sir Vivien Fuchs were trapped in the Theron in sea ice in the Weddell Sea. The pair were on a scouting party to select a site for what would be known as Shackleton Base for Sir Vivien Fuchs’ expedition to the South Pole.
Michael said: “The ice in those days was right up to the top of the peninsula. We flew down on 23 January 1956 about 120 miles and we saw the Theron and they were trapped in the ice. I found a lead for them which led along way north so they could get out. They got out that night and came alongside the Protector and Sir Edmund Hillary and Sir Vivien Fuchs got into a small boat and came to the ship. We threw a rope ladder over for them – they’re very narrow with wooden slats – and Hillary came up first and one of our sailors leaned over and said, “Can you make it up that ladder sir? … He’d just climbed Mount Everest.”
Michael stayed with the ship until it sailed back to England in the middle of the year.
“I was here off and on for about a year,” he commented, before his wife interjected with “and he hasn’t stopped talking about it since.”
He left the Navy as a Lieutenant Commander in 1973 and ran a business before the Australian navy asked him to run a project for them. He went to Australia in 1977 for the 8-year project, and during that time met Elizabeth. They bought themselves an airfield and taught people to fly for around 20 years.
He said however last year the average age of his pupils had gone to about 59. “So they are all people who have been in business, wanted to fly, retired,” and wanted to take the opportunity to take flying lessons “so I inherited them to teach which is difficult when you are an 86-year-old trying to teach a 59-year-old,” he laughed. “So we stopped that and have retired for real, apart from the farm (in New South Wales).”
They intend to fly back to the Falklands for a holiday in the future. Elizabeth has fallen in love with the Islands which reminds her of her home in Australia, she said.