Father of helicopter crash victims thanks sons in emotional service

A father who lost his sons in the Grand Canyon helicopter crash thanked them for their love in an emotional prayer service attended by hundreds of people.

The Rev Sara-Jane Stevens from St Matthew's Church led the prayer service
The Rev Sara-Jane Stevens from St Matthew's Church led the prayer service

St Matthew's Church in Tarring Road, Worthing, was inundated with well-wishers and friends and family of Becky Dobson, 26, her boyfriend Stuart Hill, 30, and Jason Hill, 31, who lost their lives when a helicopter crashed in the Grand Canyon during a once in a lifetime holiday to celebrate Stuart's 30th birthday on Saturday.

More than 450 people turned up for the service at 6pm this evening - so many that a second service was held afterwards for those waiting outside.

The service was led by the Rev Sara-Jane Stevens, curate of St Matthew's who had known Stuart and Jason's parents David and Sandra Hill for three years.

Hundreds of people attended the prayer service at St Matthew's Church in Tarring Road, Worthing - so many that two services were held.

The Rev Hill, father of Stuart and Jason and a chaplain at Worthing Hospital, gave a poignant speech thanking his two sons for the time they had together which brought tears to many in the room.

Speaking at the second service, he said: "I never ever thought I would repeat a sermon twice in one day in an Anglican church, but this is not a sermon. But as Jason and Stuart would say to me, 'you can't keep crying Dad'.

"Surely being their father gives me a right to speak, and I speak on behalf of all the families here tonight to say thank you. To the many of you waiting outside in the cold earlier with dignity, thank you.

"A huge thank you to the church, to Sara-Jane and the volunteers; to put on something like this where there is so little notice and very little precedence, it is a phenomenal feat.

Stuart Hill, 30, left, and Jason Hill, 31

"This isn't an event for us; it is an event for all six people, and news of this service has already gone to the hospital in Las Vegas, and our hearts go out to the people who are hurting and their relatives.

"There will be funerals, and the tears will really roll down then, but tonight I want to stand here and talk about the pride that we have in knowing these wonderful people, every one of them who touched so many lives.

"But for me and Sandra, two names, and one girlfriend's - these names are written on our hearts.

"I may be a Reverend, but I believe that the highest calling to Sandra and I is to be a parent, and as a parent I will briefly give you a sentence or two.

Becky Dobson, 26, from Worthing

"Jason and Stuart and Becky were the most beautiful people any parent could ever have. I'm not sure whether to use the word children, but they are our children, to Sandra and I, forever more. They were our boys; men who were doing well in business and work and in life, so full of life. They were our boys.

"Now I say to them: I am more proud of you than you will ever know, although I told them often, and I thank them for being in our lives; we simply wish it could have been for longer."

During the services, seven candles were lit. Three were purple, for Jason, Stuart and Becky, and four were white, lit for Ellie Milward, 29, Jonathan Udall, 32, and Jennifer Barham, 39 - friends who were also injured in the crash - and the injured pilot, Scott Booth, 42.

Well-wishers left notes of condolence for the family which were stacked high in baskets around the church, and which will later be bound and sent to the families. At the end of both services, mourners lit candles of remembrance for the trio which basked the church in their light.

The Rev Hill added: "I can tell you I find this harder than anything I have ever done in my life, so thank you for your support and your prayers, and thank you for your love."

"The modern version of the bible has a word from the psalms that says something about me at the moment: tears are prayers too, they travel to God when we cannot speak."

Looking back at the sea of lit candles behind him, he simply said: "Thank you".

Earlier in the afternoon, dozens of volunteers from churches across Worthing arrived early to help set up before the service.

Among them was Eric Mardell, who knew David Hill from when he was Mayor of Worthing in 2002, and Andrew Fadoju, 49, from Broadwater. The minister for The Elim Church in Broadwater Road, Broadwater, had been friends with David Hill for more than 20 years.

Speaking before the service, he said he was 'completely shocked and saddened' when he heard of the crash. He said: "It isn't the kind of thing you contemplate or envision happening.

"They are just amazing young people who were doing something with their life and had a very bright future ahead of them, and sadly it just feels that has been cut in its prime."

During the service, See You Again by Charlie Puth and Wiz Khalifa was played in memory of the trio, with the Rev Stevens explaining how the mournful lyrics reflected how the families will see their loved ones again in heaven.

She said: "I'm learning so much about Becky, Stuart and Jason; it is such a privilege. They were full of light and adventure, and that light will see you through this pain.

"With great love comes great pain, and let us share that love and that pain together."

She also addressed the questions 'how can you still believe in God after what has happened?' and 'where is God in all of this?'. For the answer, she pointed to Easter, where God allowed his son Jesus to die on the cross on Good Friday so he could understand human suffering.

She said: "As a Christian, I can only answer what I know in my heart. In can say honestly God was there; God was holding each one safe. Today when we think about what happened, we imagine some terrible things in our minds, waking and sleeping, about that incident, but be assured they were not alone; they had God holding them. I know in absolute faith that as they left this world, Becky and Jason and Stuart where held by God because the Bible says he will never leave us or forsake us, and in that same vein I know God is standing by the bedsides of those being treated in America and those sitting there with them."

She went on to say that God loved us like a parent, and that she believed for us to experience life and love, God had to let humankind be free, which included experiencing pain, suffering and death.

She said: "Why does God allow these things to happen? Maybe the question is when these things happen, how can you find God."

To read a tribute about Jason and Stuart, click here. Becky's father Peter Dobson also paid tribute to his daughter, click here to read more.

A fundraising page set up by family friends to help the two families pay for funeral costs has raised more than £2,800 so far. Click here to donate.