THE “skills and experience” of the helicopter pilot who perished in the Clutha Bar tragedy helped to prevent further loss of life on the ground, his funeral service heard on Saturday.
Captain David Traill, a veteran of the Royal Air Force, was remembered as a “hero of foreign conflicts” and a “leader of men”, who had helped to save “innumerable lives” by flying aircraft for Police Scotland and the Scottish Ambulance Service.
The 51-year-old was one of nine people who died when his Police Scotland aircraft crashed into the roof of the busy pub in Glasgow’s Broomielaw area on Friday, 29 November.
At an emotionally charged service in the University of Glasgow’s Bute Hall, his fiancée Lucy and father Iain were among about 500 people who gathered to pay their respects to the veteran of both Gulf wars, the first of the Clutha’s victims to be laid to rest.
Those in attendance included Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, justice secretary Kenny MacAskill, Gordon Matheson, leader of Glasgow City Council, Sir Stephen House, Chief Constable of Police Scotland, and Anton Muscatelli, the university’s principal.
Personnel from Royal Air Force and the city’s emergency services also turned out, alongside Traill’s family and friends, with Alan Crossan, the owner of the Clutha Bar, also paying his respects.
On a cold and crisp morning, the hearse carrying the decorated pilot arrived at the university’s southern entrance flanked by three police outriders, with the cortege led by a Harley-Davidson motorbike ridden by Bob Arkham, a longtime friend of Traill’s.
His coffin, topped with a single wreath of white lilies, was taken into the hall through a guard of honour formed by 14 police officers, paramedics and air ambulance pilots. Family members arrived soon afterwards, comforting one another before making their way inside.
Addressing the service, Reverend Stuart MacQuarrie, the university chaplain, described Traill’s life as “vibrant, rich and generous” but also “courageous”, one devoted to “serving humanity” and “protecting our community”.
He told mourners: “From what I’ve learned in the past few days of this brave and courageous man, I’m absolutely certain David would have done everything he possibly could to safeguard his colleagues in the aircraft and people who were on the ground.
“I’m convinced that David’s flying skills and experience indeed minimised the loss of life on the ground.”
The pilot’s father wept as he read You Can Shed Tears, a poem by David Harkins that he also read at the funeral of his younger son, Angus, who died from throat cancer in 2010, aged 46.
MacQuarrie read out a tribute from Traill’s fiancée, an accident and emergency doctor who met the pilot nearly five years ago on a blind date. Her partner, she said, “was the best thing that ever happened to me”, adding: “He was the most amazing, caring, loving, strong, capable, funny, creative, delicious and sexy boy in the whole world and I cannot even begin to imagine life without him.”
The service also heard from Andy Rooney, a former RAF colleague of Traill’s who paid a warm and spirited tribute to “the greatest friend a man could hope for, a steady, loyal brother in arms”.
Reflecting on how Traill had a fear of heights, he said that although he relished flying, you “could not get him up a set of ladders”.
He said: “David, Dave, Davie, Swampy – he was different things to different people and he touched many lives. But there was a consistency in him that few could match and many could envy. The calm he offered, the warmth with which he was received.”
Rooney told how, during his RAF service, Trail commanded the helicopter force in Split tasked with supporting peacekeeping operations in Bosnia. He later became a flying instructor with the RAF, where his warm sense of humour and wise advice “enriched the careers and flying skills” of many.
He went on to serve as a Chinook display pilot before taking up work as a civilian pilot with Bond Air Services in 2008. His role in flying police and ambulance helicopters, said Rooney, “contributed significantly to saving innumerable lives” over the years.
He added: “It is our duty to him, the finest tribute we can offer, to smile and to remember him, as he would wish, as a source of joy. To live well in his honour.”
Prayers were said for the other victims of the crash: police constables Kirsty Nelis, 36, and Tony Collins, 43, who were on board the helicopter, and the six men who died inside the pub, Robert Jenkins, 61, Mark O’Prey, 44, Colin Gibson, 33, John McGarrigle, 57, Gary Arthur, 48, and Samuel McGhee, 56.
The service drew to an end on an upbeat, celebratory note, as mourners were invited to sing along to the Proclaimers’ Life With You, a song that Traill and his fiancée had planned to play at their wedding. His coffin was then carried out of the hall accompanied by a lone piper who played Flower Of Scotland.
In a tribute to Traill, Bond Air Services said in a statement: “His untimely death has been deeply felt by his family, friends and colleagues who mourn his passing with a sense of intense loss and sorrow.
“Dave Traill was an esteemed colleague, a legend amongst his peers and, above all, everyone’s friend. We will miss him.”