Sad farewell as Lusty due to leave Portsmouth this morning

Former HMS Illustrious. Picture: Shaun Roster
Former HMS Illustrious. Picture: Shaun Roster

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BRITAIN’S last working aircraft carrier is due to make her final journey from Portsmouth today at 9.30am bound for a Turkish scrapyard.

Final preparations were being made this week to the former HMS Illustrious for the voyage.

Weather permitting, she is expected to leave the city this morning – passing the Round Tower at 9.45am.

The News is planning to cover her departure live on Facebook, with rolling coverage expected to begin at 9.25am.

Illustrious was rushed into service at the tail end of the Falklands War, commissioned at sea in 1982.

Nicknamed Lusty, she was the last of the Invincible-class aircraft carriers, able to carry Harrier jump jets and attack helicopters.

She remained a key naval asset for 32 years, serving in the Falklands War and the Gulf War and sailing more than 900,000 miles.

The ship was involved in the Bosnian, Iraq and Sierra Leone conflicts and helped to evacuate Brits during the Lebanon war in 2006.

Lusty was also part of the UK’s humanitarian effort in the wake of the devastating Typhoon Haiyan, carrying more than 500 tonnes of life-saving aid to victims in the Philippines in 2013.

She was retired in 2014 and has remained moored at Portsmouth Naval Base ever since.

Her final years were marred by controversy after the Ministry of Defence refused plans to preserve her as a naval museum or floating hotel.

Last month, a last-ditch effort made by veterans to save her from the scrapyard was rejected – despite the government being offered £15m.

Speaking to The News earlier this year, David Rogers, vice-chairman of the HMS Illustrious Association, said: ‘We’re all very sad it’s come to this obviously, but I think it was an inevitability.’

Illustrious will leave for the Leyal Ship Recycling and Dismantling company.

It is the same yard which scrapped her sister ships Ark Royal and Invincible.

The former HMS Invincible was sold for about £2m in 2011, while Ark Royal fetched £2.9m in 2013. Illustrious is being scrapped for £2.1m.

Illustrious’s former commanding officer, Mike Utley, said: ‘Lusty provided a world-class service to the Royal Navy for over three decades. We will bid her farewell with a heavy heart, but in the knowledge that everything has been done to find a use for her.’

Illustrious is being replaced by the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier, the first of which will arrive in Portsmouth in spring next year.