Flypast part of tributes to two servicemen

The service in memory of the two men.

The service in memory of David Bullock. - Credit: John Head

A flypast from RAF Lakenheath took place in tribute to two servicemen during a day of celebration and commemoration.

The flypast over Hethersett and north Norfolk on Thursday was to honour the memory of two servicemen who died in an air accident in 1980.

The 48th Fighter Wing from RAF Lakenheath flew in formation over Hethersett to remember US Air Force pilot Lieutenant Colonel William 'Ole' Olson. A Puma helicopter also did a special flypast for RAF veteran David Bullock who died during the training exercise in November 1980.

The day began with a service of remembrance around the grave of Mr Bullock in Aylsham Cemetery led by the Chaplain to the Spirit of Coltishall Association, the Rev Tracy Jessop, and then moved to St Remigius Church in Hethersett for a special service around the grave of Lt Col Olson.

It should have been a routine day’s flying for Lt Col Olson when he took off on November 18, 1980. 

Nanette Olson with the book she has made about her husband, American pilot Bill 'Ole' Olson, who die

Nanette Olson with the book she has made about her husband, American pilot Bill 'Ole' Olson, who died after an aircraft collision over Norfolk in 1980 - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

His wife Nanette Olson had questioned whether he would be flying in the poor weather, with him reassuring her they flew too high for it to be a concern. He did not return home.

At 9.15am two US Air Force A10 Tankbuster aircraft from RAF Bentwaters crashed over Norfolk. One of the pilots ejected but Lt Colonel Olson flew out to sea in an attempt not to crash over populated areas.

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He was forced to eject into the sea off Winterton.

A rescue helicopter was scrambled from Coltishall and Mr Bullock was lowered to try to free him from the waterlogged parachute which was dragging him through the waves.

Bill and Nanette Olson on their wedding day

Bill and Nanette Olson on their wedding day - Credit: Family collection

In gale force winds and heavy waves, Mr Bullock became entangled in the parachute. Then the steel winch cable snapped. Both men, who were aged 38, died.

Mrs Olson, who lives in Hethersett, described her husband - known to everyone as Ole - as a charming man whose beaming smile lit up any room.

“He was fun-loving, very clever, highly intellectual and a man with impeccable manners. He had a wonderful gift with people,” she said.

“Although we were only able to spend 10 years as a married couple, I am forever grateful that I met Ole, created a beautiful family with him and that we shared so many exciting times together. We were able to travel the world and our children were able to experience different countries and cultures.”

During lockdown, she said she found time to “clear out some cupboards” and came across a host of memorabilia which she turned into a book about him.

At the time of the accident Lt Colonel Olson was stationed at Bentwaters and Mrs Olson and her mother called at the base that day as they were in the area. They were met by the station commander who gave them the tragic news.

The memorial service for the servicemen.

The memorial service for the servicemen. - Credit: John Head

At the time of the accident, the couple and their two young children – Tony and Alexandra – were living in Hethersett but looking to move closer to Woodbridge where Lt Colonel Olson was being posted as station commander. 

A special 40th anniversary commemoration scheduled for 2020 had to be shelved due to lockdown restrictions, but this year’s event was a fitting tribute to the bravery of both Lt Colonel Olson and Mr Bullock.

Lt Colonel Olson was born on December 20, 1941, and would have been 80 this year.

The flypast which took place in memory of the servicemen.

The flypast which took place in memory of the servicemen. - Credit: John Head

He grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and joined the Airforce Academy in Colorado in 1959, going on to see active service in Vietnam.

He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross Air medal before being posted to Weathersfield in Suffolk and subsequently to USAF Bentwaters.

The commemoration events were organised by Mrs Olson and the Spirit of Coltishall Association and the USAF was represented by Colonel Charles Metrolis, US Air Attache at RAF Lakenheath.

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