Helicopter pilot's wedding plans after sea rescue

A HELICOPTER pilot plans to take his place at a Highland wedding this weekend just days after being plucked from the sea in an international rescue drama off Antarctica.

Quentin Smith, 40, was last night heading home to the UK after surviving the ordeal of having to ditch his helicopter in the sea midway between Chile and the South Pole, after it developed engine problems.

On Monday, Mr Smith and a fellow adventurer, Steve Brooks, took to a liferaft when their Robinson R44 came down 35 miles from a remote island. They had hoped to become the first to fly a helicopter to the North and South Poles.

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The rescue operation was started after Mr Brooks rang his wife, Jo, at home in Clapham, south London, from a satellite telephone to tell her they had been forced to ditch.

Mrs Brooks was also contacted by the rescue co-ordination centre at RAF Kinloss, after her husband’s emergency transponder transmitted her mobile phone number to their base.

Nine hours later, the men were picked up, virtually unscathed, by the Chilean navy.

Now Mr Smith faces another race against time, to make it to Lochcarron, Wester Ross, for the wedding of Diana Pattinson, the daughter of local laird, Mark Pattinson, on Saturday.

Ms Pattinson, 31, a marketing manager, is marrying Miles Thompson, 32, a Royal Navy submarine officer from Edinburgh. Her brother, John, is married to Mr Smith’s sister, Sasha, and they live at nearby Kishorn.

Sasha Pattinson said last night: "I’m hopeful he’ll make it. I never had any doubt about Quentin’s ability to cope with something like this.

"Ditching in the sea is an incredibly difficult thing to get away with. One minute they were flying normally, the next they were doing all the things they had to do in an emergency."

Some 180 guests have been invited to the wedding at Lochcarron Church of Scotland, and the exclusive Loch Torridon Hotel, normally closed during January, is opening specially for the occasion.

Mark Pattinson, who owns the 20,000-acre Lochcarron Estate, added: "There’s a place reserved for Quentin on Saturday. His father told me on Tuesday that he was on his way to the Falklands, and from there he would be flying on to London.

"We’d be delighted to offer him some Highland hospitality after his heroics in the Antarctic."

Wester Ross has featured prominently in Mr Smith’s epic adventures in recent years. In August 1997, he landed at Kishorn on the final leg of a record-breaking flight by Jennifer Murray, who became the first female helicopter pilot to circumnavigate the globe.

Mr Smith was her co-pilot when they landed at Couldoran, home of Mrs Murray’s sister, Mrs Gillian Pattinson. Couldoran was their last stop before flying to Denham, near London, and a place in the Guinness Book of Records for Mrs Murray.

Three years later, she claimed another record when she became the first woman to fly solo round the world. Mr Smith flew behind in another helicopter, landing at Plockton and again staying at Couldoran before flying to Denham and into the records books.

Mrs Murray, 62, was last night relieved that Mr Smith had survived the ditching. "Quentin is a superb pilot," she said, as she prepared to fly from London for the Highland wedding.

"Great credit to Quentin that he managed to ditch in a way that allowed them both to get out. It was quite something to get them both out of there, but there are few pilots in the world with his ability."