HUNDREDS of people lined the harbour walls and jetty to wave home the Royal Navy’s helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious as it sailed into port for the final time.
Following 32 years of service, Tyne-built “Lusty” returned to Portsmouth Naval Base, Hampshire, yasterday with a decommissioning ceremony to be held later in the year.
The carrier, which was rushed into service for the Falklands War, will be replaced by HMS Ocean, which has just received a £65m refit, until the next generation of aircraft carriers come into service.
Illustrious gave a gun salute as it arrived at the mouth of Portsmouth harbour and its arrival was marked with a flypast of Apache, Lynx, Merlin, Sea King and Chinook helicopters as well as a hawk jet and a Second World War fighter plane. Sandie Dennett, 30, was greeting her husband, leading engineering technician Andrew Dennett, 31, along with their daughters Ayla, one, and Anya, five.
Mrs Dennett, originally from Newcastle but now living in Portsmouth, said: “It’s quite sad, it’s quite emotional. It’s the end of an era.
“He’s been on the ship since 2009, he’s been on a long time, so it’s sad really for him.”
Illustrious, which was built by Swan Hunter on the Tyne and launched by Princess Margaret in December 1978, had its entry into service brought forward so it could assist in the Falklands War.
The 22,000-tonne ship’s deployment was so rushed that its commissioning ceremony took place at sea en route to the Falklands on June 20, 1982, while it was formally commissioned on its return.