Navy pilot will get Olympic flame off to a flying start

HONOUR Lt Chris Whittington will take the Olympic Torch to Land's End. Inset with his son Steven
HONOUR Lt Chris Whittington will take the Olympic Torch to Land's End. Inset with his son Steven
The Russian destroyer Vice Admiral Kulakov as seen from HMS Somerset in the Moray Firth

Royal Navy ship shadows a Russian destroyer

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HE’S usually called into action to rescue fishermen in peril or pluck injured holidaymakers from cliffs.

But on Saturday, navy pilot Lieutenant Chris Whittington will be flying with a very different cargo.

The 27-year-old from Stubbington will be in the cockpit to deliver the Olympic Torch to Land’s End as it begins an 8,000-mile tour of the UK.

The flame will arrive at Culdrose naval air station in Cornwall on Friday evening and Chris will take it to Land’s End at 7am Saturday.

He told The News: ‘It’s a very proud moment. It’s humbling to be involved when you think about how many athletes and inspirational people are taking part in the relay.

‘It’s a real honour and will definitely be a highlight of my career.’

The former Crofton School pupil joined the navy eight years ago after completing his A-levels at St Vincent College. He will be waved off from Culdrose by his wife Nicola and their two-year-old son, Steven.

The search and rescue pilot said it was ‘a case of right place, right time’ that he was chosen to transport the flame with three colleagues from 771 Naval Air Squadron.

He joked: ‘Also, they had to find people who wouldn’t mind getting up really early on a Saturday.’

Chris said the enormity of the task was just dawning on them, adding: ‘I don’t think any of us knew what to expect when we were first told about it. We all thought “that’s a cool bit of cargo to be carrying” but now with all the pressure and media interest, the spotlight is firmly on us and it’s getting a bit nerve-wracking.

‘We are used to high-pressure situations due to our work and we are obviously trained to deal with that in our day-to-day business.

‘But this is a different kind of pressure because the whole world will be watching us. It’s a simple task, but it’s potentially one of the most important landings of my life.’

He said part of the challenge will be to keep the flame lit during the 50-mile flight to Land’s End.

After it is handed to Olympic sailor Ben Ainslie, the Torch will be carried across the UK for 70 days leading up to the London Games.

The flame comes to Fareham, Gosport, and Portsmouth on July 15 when chart-toppers Rizzle Kicks lead ing celebrations with an free evening concert on Southsea Common. The Torch will leave for Brighton the following day.