Al­lana Corbin and her fam­ily are push­ing on in life af­ter the tragic pass­ing of hus­band and fa­ther Roger. Still griev­ing, the fam­ily is de­ter­mined to con­tinue to live life to the full.

With the an­niver­sary of her hus­band’s tragic death next week, Al­lana Corbin ex­plains how she and her daugh­ters are hon­our­ing the fly­ing hero’s mem­ory

Mercury (Hobart) - Magazine - - UPFRONT - WORDS AMANDA DUCKER MAIN IM­AGE NIKKI DAVIS-JONES

Liv­ing boldly is not an op­tion for Al­lana Corbin. It’s a ne­ces­sity. Her late hus­band Roger felt the same way. Their shared sense of ad­ven­ture and love of fly­ing brought the cou­ple to­gether more than 20 years ago. And last year it tore them apart. As the first an­niver­sary of well-known res­cue pi­lot Roger’s death approaches, Al­lana has had plenty of time to re­flect on their choices. Like their daugh­ters, she is still griev­ing and heart­bro­ken, but she never ques­tions the path she and Roger forged.

“They say the brave don’t al­ways live to 100, but the meek don’t live at all. And that’s my phi­los­o­phy,” says the 51-year-old, whose aerial life be­gan at 18 with hot-air bal­loon­ing, fol­lowed by para­chute jump­ing and the pur­suit of a fixed-wing li­cence as soon as she was able to muster the funds to pay for her les­sons.

“I’ve had to ac­knowl­edge my life and lifestyle is ex­treme com­pared to most and comes with a de­gree of in­her­ent risk.”

Al­lana sur­vived a fa­tal light plane crash at the age of 23. Badly in­jured, she was trapped in the fallen Cessna 210 for three hours as four friends died around her. Af­ter she and a sixth pas­sen­ger were fi­nally res­cued in rugged bush west of Cam­den, NSW, she was told spinal dam­age from her bro­ken back meant she would never walk again. She faces the tragedy of Roger’s death know­ing she has turned her life around once al­ready.

To­day, with the aid of lower leg braces, Al­lana moves com­pe­tently around the Eastern Shore rental home she shares with her twin 12-year-old daugh­ters, Is­abella and In­di­ana, as they wait for their new home to be built at Otago Bay.

When she is out and about, Al­lana re­lies on walk­ing sticks as well to hold and steady her against the par­tial para­ple­gia that left her with no feel­ing be­low the knees.

She speaks with the level words of a survivor. “I’ve been through a lot and had to deal with a lot in my life,” she tells TasWeek­end. “And los­ing Roger proves to me again we are not im­mune to tragedy. As you go through and tackle chal­lenges it does make you stronger, to have the tools on board to be able to cope with the things life brings.”

She shows me the mo­bile app she uses to track the flights made by Ro­tor-Lift Avi­a­tion, the busi­ness she and Roger launched in Tas­ma­nia 18 years ago when they won the con­tract to run the state’s emer­gency avi­a­tion res­cue ser­vice. Though Ro­tor-Lift has var­i­ous wings, the busi­ness model is sim­ple at heart, she says. “If some­one is hurt we help them. If they are lost we go find them. And that’s what we do on a daily ba­sis.”

She says Roger woke ev­ery morn­ing with a great sense of pur­pose. He felt priv­i­leged to play a role in sav­ing peo­ple’s lives. It gave his life great mean­ing, es­pe­cially with Al­lana hav­ing been res­cued pre­vi­ously. “We wanted the op­por­tu­nity to give some­thing back for my own life hav­ing been saved,” she says.

At home with the girls, she fol­lowed Roger’s flights closely on the smart­phone app when she knew he was out on dif­fi­cult res­cues. Re­trieval mis­sions could take him way out to sea, as they did 11 years ago when he flew 120 nau­ti­cal miles south-west of the state to help res­cue a solo sailor. And they could take him into wild ter­rain to res­cue bush­walk­ers and oth­ers in trou­ble. He won a brav­ery award for a par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing res­cue in the freez­ing Cen­tral High­lands, com­pli­cated by ap­palling weather and loaded with the knowl­edge the se­ri­ously in­jured pas­sen­gers would not sur­vive the night un­less he man­aged to get in.

“I’d of­ten have sleep­less nights watch­ing him and track­ing him live,” Al­lana says. “And there would be many nights when he would come home at some un­godly hour, hav­ing done a big res­cue, and he’d turn all the lights on and he’d just have to talk. We would of­ten be up ‘til the sun came up.”

On other tough days he’d barely speak on home­com­ing and head straight up­stairs to run a bath. “Roger would of­ten get him­self so worked up over things and wouldn’t know where to gen­er­ate that en­ergy,” says Al­lana. “He’d go and run a bath and oc­ca­sion­ally I’d hear him call down, ‘well, are you com­ing up?’ I knew I just needed to sit there and he just needed to talk.

“He was such a com­plex per­son. He was pretty fiery and he would go off, but I never took any of that personally be­cause it was never di­rected personally. It was never a chal­lenge to me, be­cause I ab­so­lutely 100 per cent un­der­stood the man. I knew where he was com­ing from. He wasn’t a per­fect per­son, and nor am I – there is no per­fect per­son – but he and I were the per­fect fit. We re­ally were.”

She pulls a face of pure dis­gust and laughs as she tries to imag­ine shar­ing life with “a nine-to-five kind of man”.

“Roger said when we started go­ing out ‘it’s go­ing to be re­ally hard be­ing with me, but it won’t be bor­ing’ … and he was ab­so­lutely right about that, but I never found it hard. I loved the man more than any­thing in the world.”

Al­lana was crumb­ing chicken for din­ner in the late af­ter­noon of Novem­ber 7, 2017, when the first call came to say there had been an ac­ci­dent. She pulled Izzy out of a dance les­son and the girls sat with their mother on her bed wait­ing for news.

In the next call Al­lana was told one of their po­lice crew­men was com­ing to see them. She knew what it meant. It was po­lice pro­to­col to de­liver the worst news in per­son.

“It’s all a bit of a blur, re­ally,” she says. “The po­lice turned up, then a lot of other peo­ple turned up be­cause it was in the news so quickly. I had to ring Sophia, Roger’s 21-year-old daugh­ter.

“The events of the next week were pretty hor­ren­dous, es­sen­tially man­ag­ing the chil­dren and what was go­ing on. We had a com­plete blan­ket me­dia in the house — no TV, no news­pa­pers, no ra­dio. We closed ranks around the chil­dren.”

She ag­o­nised over whether to let the girls see their dad one last time. “It was a hard call, a re­ally hard call,” she says. “So I went to see him first. That was go­ing to be the de­cid­ing fac­tor. And he was beau­ti­ful. He looked like he had been in a bit of a brawl, but they’d seen him like that be­fore.”

She laughs briefly, then her eyes shine with tears. “I ag­o­nised over it for days. I de­cided that if they wanted to see him, they had a right to see him. It was bru­tal, cruel, hor­ren­dous, but it gave them clo­sure. He went to work and didn’t come home … It was the best de­ci­sion I could have made.”

It will be a year on Wed­nes­day since Roger was killed at Ho­bart Air­port dur­ing a train­ing ex­er­cise in a sin­gle-en­gine Squir­rel he­li­copter. The only other oc­cu­pant, pi­lot John Osborne, sur­vived. The cause of the ac­ci­dent re­mains un­known, with in­ves­ti­ga­tions on­go­ing.

Roger, 57, re­ceived a hero’s farewell at a ser­vice at­tended by about 1000 peo­ple at the Ho­bart Re­gatta Grounds, with mourn­ers pay­ing trib­ute to his vi­sion, gen­eros­ity and fly­ing prowess. The New Zealand-born pi­lot had worked in many coun­tries and was a re­cip­i­ent of the Na­tional Search and Res­cue Award for the many hun­dreds of res­cues he per­formed in Tas­ma­nia.

At the ser­vice, Tas­ma­nia Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Dar­ren Hine de­scribed him as a “truly in­spir­ing pioneer”. “He in­tro­duced ca­pa­bil­i­ties that went be­yond the scope of the con­tract to pro­vide the Tas­ma­nian com­mu­nity with the best – and I mean the best – search and res­cue plat­form,” Hine said. “There are peo­ple all over the world, not just in Tas­ma­nia, who owe their lives to this out­stand­ing res­cue ser­vice and to Roger.”

His cof­fin was car­ried past a guard of hon­our formed by emer­gency ser­vices per­son­nel and lifted in a res­cue he­li­copter for his fi­nal flight.

“It was not love at first sight,” says Al­lana of the de­mand­ing in­struc­tor she met in 1995 tasked with ap­prov­ing her tur­bine en­dorse­ment, an ex­tra li­cence qual­i­fi­ca­tion be­yond the com­mer­cial chop­per pi­lot li­cence she’d just gained.

“I didn’t like him at all. He was grumpy and yelled at me. He told me I flew like a girl.”

Al­lana was not go­ing to let that rattle her, though. She had de­fied predictions of paral­y­sis to walk again less than a year af­ter her ac­ci­dent. A year af­ter that she had faced her fear of fly­ing by ‘wing-walk­ing’ strapped to a frame atop a small Tiger Moth that flew to 1000ft. (The friend who or­gan­ised her flight died do­ing the same stunt at the same event the next year.)

Con­tin­u­ing to con­quer her fear in typ­i­cally bold style, Al­lana re­turned briefly to fixed-wing fly­ing be­fore switch­ing to ro­tary craft, which bet­ter suited her mo­bil­ity lim­i­ta­tions.

In 1997, she cir­cum­nav­i­gated Aus­tralia solo by chop­per, mak­ing her the first fe­male pi­lot to do so, and went on to share her story in a mem­oir and mo­ti­va­tional speeches.

De­spite their con­flict in the cock­pit dur­ing her train­ing, some­thing had clicked along the way be­tween Al­lana and Roger and they started a busi­ness re­la­tion­ship, buy­ing and sell­ing air­craft out of Syd­ney’s Mas­cot. “We were tip­toe­ing around the re­la­tion­ship for quite a while,” Al­lana re­mem­bers.

Even­tu­ally they suc­cumbed and it felt so right. They hadn’t lived to­gether, though, un­til they moved to Tas­ma­nia in 2000. They mar­ried in 2002 and wel­comed the twins three years later.

Al­lana put fly­ing on the back­burner when she be­came a mum, but still holds her pi­lot’s li­cence. For now though her fo­cus is on the chil­dren, the busi­ness and the goal of re­new­ing Ro­torLift’s con­tract to de­liver the ser­vice best-known to the pub­lic by its dis­tinc­tive red and yel­low res­cue chop­pers spon­sored by West­pac. Along with the Ro­tor-Lift Avi­a­tion crew, res­cue teams in­clude Am­bu­lance Tas­ma­nia and Tas­ma­nia Po­lice per­son­nel.

Al­lana says she and Roger of­ten talked about the fu­ture and al­ways took a prag­matic ap­proach to plan­ning. “It was very much down to busi­ness for Roger and me. We had a very solid plan as to what would hap­pen and what the ex­pec­ta­tion of each per­son would be if any­thing [changed]. We had our house in or­der. Ev­ery­thing was up to date with wills and in­sur­ances, and we were both very aware of what each per­son would want to hap­pen if ei­ther of us wasn’t here.”

Those dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tions proved valu­able when tragedy hit. “Sud­denly, be­ing in that place, there were no ma­jor de­ci­sions to make,” she says. “It was just im­ple­ment­ing the plan.”

Out at the Ro­tor-Lift head­quar­ters near Ho­bart Air­port, the suc­ces­sion plan was put into place im­me­di­ately, with­out a sin­gle in­ter­rup­tion to the ser­vice. The com­man­der in chief was gone, but there was still a job to do. And the team of 12 pi­lots, seven engi­neers and var­i­ous of­fice and sup­port staff stepped up.

“Every­body had to put their [per­sonal grief] aside and do what they had to do,” Al­lana says.

Roger’s death leaves Al­lana as sole di­rec­tor and owner of the busi­ness. As well as work­ing closely with se­nior ex­ec­u­tives, in­clud­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive Su­san Stan­ley, Al­lana has in­tro­duced an ad­vi­sory board that meets once a month. The res­cue con­tract re­mains Ro­tor-Lift’s core busi­ness, sup­ple­mented by a fly­ing school, char­ter work, Na­tional Parks and farm com­mis­sions, aerial fire­fight­ing, a he­li­copter trad­ing unit and an engi­neer­ing depart­ment.

Be­cause he was off fly­ing so much, it of­ten feels to his fam­ily as if Roger is just away on an­other trip. The heart­break­ing delu­sion serves them in a way, al­low­ing them to get on with ev­ery­day life, but it is a sur­real sort of ex­is­tence. Sophia has re­turned to univer­sity in Adelaide where she is study­ing arts/law. The girls are in their fi­nal term of Year 7, Izzy at St Michael’s Col­le­giate and In­di­ana at The Friends’ School, and turn 13 this month.

Fam­ily mile­stone dates have been par­tic­u­larly hard on them. “We keep say­ing ‘Phew, we got through that’,” says Al­lana. “Fa­ther’s Day was hor­ren­dous. We were at each other’s throats, but we ac­knowl­edged it. We ended up go­ing out for tea, but it was a tough day.”

Al­ter­ing their tra­di­tions on spe­cial days so the gap­ing hole doesn’t seem quite as ob­vi­ous seems to help a bit, but Al­lana be­lieves only time will ease the pain and al­low them to read­just.

“The an­niver­sary next week is go­ing to be an­other tough day. But my the­ory is we will have had one year of sig­nif­i­cant dates with­out him, and that’s the start of us es­tab­lish­ing our new nor­mal. Around year three, that will be our nor­mal. That’s how I think this will play out and that is what we are work­ing to­wards.”

One of her own wishes for year two is to stop get­ting sick. She puts the months-long clus­ter of mi­graine headaches and bout of Bell’s palsy nerve paral­y­sis she suf­fered this year down to stress. She hasn’t spent a sin­gle day in bed, though. She makes sure she gets to the gym most days to build her strength and fit­ness.“Roger and I have al­ways adopted the at­ti­tude that you just got to keep go­ing, what­ever hap­pens.”

Nav­i­gat­ing the chil­dren through grief is wrench­ing and calls on all her re­sources. “I worked out pretty quickly that if I am OK, they are OK,” she says. “To a cer­tain point you have to put your own grief on the shelf, and my griev­ing has al­ways been away from the kids. We’ve had mo­ments where we’ve all just lost it to­gether, but on a day-to-day ba­sis I just have to be a solid unit. If I start to lose it, then they are scared. They’ve lost one par­ent. The one they have with them has to be as solid as a rock, so that’s what I am, as solid as a rock for them.”

Some­times, Al­lana says with a laugh, what she misses most is sim­ply Roger telling the girls “Will you lis­ten to your mother”. Try­ing to fill the roles of two par­ents is chal­leng­ing. “Be­ing a mum, dad and ev­ery­thing in be­tween is a hard job, es­pe­cially when chil­dren are griev­ing and you have to find the bal­ance be­tween dis­ci­plin­ing them and pro­vid­ing sup­port and guid­ance, es­pe­cially when they are at such a crit­i­cal age.”

She strays be­tween past and present tenses as she tries to en­com­pass Roger’s many, some­times con­tra­dic­tory, di­men­sions, and the many as­pects of him they miss.

“Roger was a very pas­sion­ate per­son,” she be­gins. “And he was very de­ter­mined and the most in­tel­li­gent per­son I have ever met. He was hi­lar­i­ous and he had the best sense of hu­mour ever. But he was ex­treme. Ev­ery­thing he did was ex­treme. He worked ex­tremely hard, he par­tied ex­tremely hard.

“He was so com­pas­sion­ate and giv­ing of him­self. If some­one was dis­traught, he knew ex­actly what to do or say, which was some­times to say noth­ing. He was nur­tur­ing. He was the most gen­er­ous per­son. We’d go out to din­ner and he was al­ways the first to go and pay the bill for every­body. He’d give the shirt off his back. I’ve seen it…”

And as much as he was in­spi­ra­tional and a born teacher, he could be ex­haust­ing and dif­fi­cult to deal with, too.

“He of­ten rubbed peo­ple up the wrong way,” she says. “He was a vi­sion­ary and he could see how things had to be done and he got so frus­trated at times.”

And he could be hard to work for. “He de­manded ex­cel­lence and would set­tle for noth­ing less. He had very high ex­pec­ta­tions of him­self and he ex­pected those around him to have those same stan­dards. He was a hard taskmas­ter. He was of­ten mis­in­ter­preted as be­ing ar­ro­gant, but it was more pas­sion than ar­ro­gance.

“If any­thing went wrong, Roger would take it personally. The buck stopped with him and he owned that re­spon­si­bil­ity. As for safety, he was so vig­i­lant. If he walked into the hangar and the floor was dusty or dirty or had oil on it, he would go berserk. He al­ways said ‘if you can’t get this right, you are not go­ing to get any­thing right’. Ev­ery­thing has to be im­mac­u­late. And that’s how he ran the busi­ness.”

Some days it’s Roger’s sense of fun and wild­ness they miss the most. “He brought a lot of ad­ven­ture to our world,” she says. “He was very much an out­door man, with the fish­ing, boat­ing and camp­ing. And he was spon­ta­neous. He loved sur­pris­ing us. On spe­cial days, he wouldn’t just come home with flow­ers, he’d have some bizarre ex­otic event he’d have con­jured up, so left­field you never knew what was com­ing.”

Most of all, they just miss ev­ery­day life with him.

Al­lana says it was hard for the three girls to walk through the grief so pub­licly when Roger died, with ex­ten­sive me­dia cov­er­age on the loss of the lo­cal hero in dra­matic cir­cum­stances.

“The girls all conducted them­selves with great strength and dig­nity and were a com­fort to me in the dark­est of days. As heart­break­ing as it is to lose Roger so young, he would want us to go on and live ful­fill­ing lives. He wanted noth­ing more than for us to be happy.”

At the time, Izzy pub­licly re­vealed her wish to be­come a pi­lot, an am­bi­tion her mother sup­ports. “It is who we are and what we do,” says Al­lana. “Look at her par­ents. How am I go­ing to fight that one? If that’s her pas­sion, then I sup­port her 100 per cent… and I can tell you she will be given ev­ery re­source to be­come the high­est-trained pi­lot on this planet.”

The strength of fam­ily has proved an im­mea­sur­able com­fort, as has the sup­port of friends and the com­mu­nity over the past year as Al­lana and the girls make their way back to­wards the light.

“That hap­pi­ness is out there in the fog some­where and as each day passes, we are one day closer to see­ing brighter days.”

Keep­ing Roger’s legacy alive is her driv­ing in­spi­ra­tion. She is hugely in­vested in the goal of re­new­ing the res­cue con­tract and con­tin­u­ing to help save lives. “I will give it ev­ery­thing I’ve got,” she says. “I don’t know any­thing else. I don’t want to do any­thing else. This is our whole world.”

Al­lana with daugh­ters In­di­ana, left, Izzy and late hus­band Roger in Stra­han in March last year.

Clock­wise from left: Al­lana Corbin ‘wing­walk­ing’ on a Tiger Moth; with her late hus­band Roger at their for­mer home at Otago, where she is build­ing again; Roger us­ing hi-tech night-vi­sion gog­gles; and the lov­ing pair. “He and I were the per­fect fit. We re­ally were.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.