Retirement for some aging war birds held special meaning for a Nanaimo family this week.
Ronei Faganello and about 40 friends and supporters holding signs and Canadian flags braved a cold, stiff breeze at Pipers Lagoon for more than an hour Monday morning as they waited for a special fly-over by four CH-124 Sea King helicopters. The machines were making their final flight before being retired from service with the Canadian Armed Forces.
Faganello’s brother, Maj. Paul Faganello, with the 443 Maritime Helicopter Sdqn. and 24 years’ service with the Royal Canadian Air Force, piloted the lead helicopter in the four-aircraft formation.
“It was pretty exciting, not only for them to fly over, but for them to do a loop around and back again,” Faganello said. “To seee them so up close and one of the fellows that was there watching, said he saw my brother wave from his cockpit, to give an indication of how close they were.”
The Sikorsky CH-124 Sea Kings have been in continuous service with Canada’s military since 1963. The aging machines have been refurbished and upgraded over the decades, but have become increasingly difficult and costly to service. Twenty-eight of the original 41 CH-124s purchased by Canada in 1963 are still flying.
“For me it was very heartfelt because my brother has done three tours of duty in the Persian Gulf in those helicopters and, you know, to know that … those ‘copters – even though they may have a little bit of a bad rep about needing so much maintenance after every flight – they kept my brother alive and safe during those tours,” Faganello said.
Faganello’s mother Alice and father Ron, both 83, were also there to witness their son’s flight.
“For them to be out there to see their son, in their final years, doing something so impressive really just fills up their bucket,” Faganello said.