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And it's goodbye to all that ...

Wed, 20 Oct 2010

WHAT, you may well be asking, is a picture of an upturned helicopter doing on a website dedicated to motorcycles?

Chopper fans amongst you may know this isn't any ordinary helicopter, it's an Agusta 109C; an 8-seat twin-turbine multi-million dollar aircraft capable of whisking its occupants across the sky at around 170mph.

And my point is?

The story goes like this ...

Not so long ago, I was on a Honda launch with one Steve 'Stavros' Parrish, chatting at the hotel bar, when the subject soon wandered onto Steve's lifelong buddy, the late, great Barry Sheene.

After a while, the conversation crept around to aeroplanes (Steve's a competent fixed wing pilot) helicopters and finally to VH-ZZN - the Australian callsign for Sheene's gorgeous Agusta 109C helicopter. The former double 500cc World Champion had sourced the 109 from Switzerland in 2002, having searched worldwide for the exact model and specification he wanted.

Sheene, an experienced pilot with over 25 years at the controls of various 'copters, bought the luxury chopper from the Swiss owner and flew it back to the UK with his sister, Maggie. From there, ZZN was shipped back to Sheene's home in Australia, where it underwent a complete makeover, including the installation of new hi-tech avionics.

"He was absolutely made up with it," said Parrish. "Owning such a prestigious helicopter was one of Barry's life-long dreams."

Sadly, a short time after its renovation was complete, Sheene was told he had cancer. He died six months later, in March 2003, having hardly flown his much-loved 109.

Knowing the end was near, Barry made specific plans for how he wanted ZZN to leave his home, on Brisbane's Gold Coast, nominating a pilot friend to make the aircraft's final flight from Sheene's house.

An excerpt from Parrish's book 'Barry' tells how ZZN left Sheene's house for the last time:

Stephanie Sheene:

'Before Barry died he told me the only person he wanted to fly the helicopter away from our house was a pilot from Melbourne, called Russell.

'As the helicopter climbed away from the house a rainbow appeared over the river and Russell flew under it. It was as if Barry was acknowledging that his dream helicopter had finally flown away.'

ZZN was subsequently sold to a charter business, Helicopters Brisbane, where the aircraft was used for shuttling VIPs, businessmen and wealthy sightseers around the region.

Shortly after acquiring Sheene's aircraft, one of the company's pilots took ZZN on a job, which involved landing on a floating wooden pontoon at Brisbane River Helipad. After dropping off a passenger, the pilot attempted to take off, not realising one of the helicopter's wheels had punctured the wooden helipad and was stuck fast.

The situation resulted in what helicopter pilots call a 'dynamic rollover' - the aircraft simply flipped onto its main rotor blades and sank beneath the water.

Heavily damaged, waterlogged with no chance of repair, the accident wrote off Sheene's beloved 109.

Parrish concluded the story with:

"I wonder if he (Barry) was working his magic from upstairs. He really didn't want anyone else owning that helicopter."

*Pics courtesy of Bert van Drunick

By Tim Skilton

See also: Stafford Bric-a-Brac. Misery and Sadness in excess, GSX-R600 and CBR250R the glass is half full, Hot on-board laps of Cadwell with Josh Brookes.