Tributes to death-fall balloonist

TRIBUTES have poured in for a Brampton man regarded by family and friends as “born to adventure”.

TRIBUTES have poured in for a man known to family and friends as a “born-adventurer” who fell to his death in the Alps following a hot-air balloon flight on Friday.

Though funeral arrangements are yet to be confirmed, at least 400 mourners are expected to attend the funeral of former garden centre owner Bob Bickerdike later this month at St Mary’s Church in Brampton.

A keen balloonist, skier, motorcyclist and sailor Bob had travelled the world in the 10 years following the sale of his Brampton business to horticultural company Frosts.

The 64 year old had more than 30 years experience ballooning and in the three days leading up to his death had undertaken several successful flights in the Alps with friends Simon Wardle, David Hopkins, Ian Williams and Mark Smithson - one of which he described in his logs as “one of the most memorable flights.”

But the next day the father of six got into difficulty after skillfully landing his Cameron Viva-65 balloon on the side of a mountain in the Abondance and straying into treacherous ice on his way to a nearby chalet.

Mr Wardle, who was co-ordinating the flight from the valley floor, spoke to him ten minutes after he landed.

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He said: “I called him at three minutes to five. He said ‘I am trying to walk to a chalet. I nearly fell over. I am in a really bad place.’ He had left the balloon and put himself straight into jeopardy.

“I had a quick discussion with a colleague. We decided if he can give us an accurate point on some rocks, then we can get a helicopter there. Two minutes past five I called him, and his phone was dead.”

Bob’s body was discovered five hours later by the mountain rescue police team. He had fallen 700 metres. French police are due to record his death as a mountaineering accident.

Mr Wardle of Old Weston, who had known Bob for six years, described his friend as a “guy and a half.”

He said: “He was born for adventure. I have never met anybody who had more friends that Bob. He was an unbelievable guy and so funny. Whatever Bob did he did it properly and with the greatest joy.”

Mr Hopkins, who was travelling in a different balloon with Mr Williams, watched Bob’s balloon drop out of sight over the crest of a mountain.

He had helped his friend get back into ballooning eight years ago after a short time away from the sport, and had joined him on flights around the world.

Mr Hopkins said: “He probably thought it was easier to walk down than go up. He did not even bother to ring us. Had he got hold of the phone, he might still be here today.

“Whatever I have done with Bob over the years, he pleads he does not know anything about anything. He does not try to impress anybody. He has had a fantastic 10 years going all over the world and spending time with his children.”

Immediately after retiring Bob joined his older brother Bill to sail across the Atlantic. He spent three weeks with neighbour Bob Goldspink biking across Eastern Europe and has sailed around the Mediterrean. He was due to go skiing next week.

A member of Huntingdonshire Community Church for more than 20 years, his faith was central to the way he lived his life.

His wife Julie, 54 said: “Everything he did was under-girded by his faith and what that meant. It was a profound and deep belief that affected every single thing he did and his attitude to everybody. He believed that he would go to heaven as the Bible said.”

Through the church, Bob helped to set up the Cornerstone Pregnancy Crisis Clinic in Huntingdon giving advice to mums-to-be, and helped to run the Share Out project aimed at providing household goods to those in need.

Staff pastor Andy Stephens said: “He was a genuinely lovely man, who would do anything for anybody. You would have to go a long way to find somebody of that character.

“He was a fun guy, who always had a good story to tell and always took a close interest in people.”

Mr Bickerdike leaves behind his children Robert, Anthony, James, Sam, Harry and Georgie.

INFORMATION: A date for the funeral service is yet to be confirmed, but it will be family flowers only. Mourners will be asked to make donations to the Cornerstone Pregnancy Crisis Clinic.