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Tears as flagship vessel enters the tyne; Tears as flagship vessel enters the Tyne.

Byline: KIM CARMICHAEL

AN emotional homecoming marked the end of an era for the pride of the Royal Navy.

HMS Ark Royal proudly sailed up the Tyne for the last time yesterday after 25 years of valiant service.

A symbol of Tyneside's glorious shipbuilding past, the flagship vessel carried 600 crew members into North Shields.

As crowds of well-wishers lined the route, it was a poignant journey for the Swan Hunter-built aircraft carrier, affectionately known as the Mighty Ark.

Daniel Phillips, 20, from Hebburn, South Tyneside, who has been an Ark Royal steward for two and a half years, was among the ship's company waving to onlookers.

Daniel, who is looking forward to being reunited this weekend with siblings Aaron, 14, and Kelly, 18, and parents Lorraine and Laurence, said: "It's a really emotional day. We got a lot of support when we were coming in from people with banners. I know my dad was there somewhere too. The ship's going to be missed.

"It was built here and it is the last time we're going to see it here so it's a very sad time."

Leading aircraft technician Kevin Best, 29, of Wallsend, has served on the Ark Royal for nine years, including during the 2003 Gulf War, when the ship played a significant role in the liberation of Iraq.

Kevin, who now lives in North Shields with his fiancee Angela Young, 34, said: "It was good to see the crowds cheering as we sailed in. The support in the North East is brilliant. I know everyone here was looking forward to coming back. I had a tear in my eye."

Captain Jerry Kyd, who has served on the Ark Royal since she was built, said: "Coming back to the North East is always a special event, no more so than today as this is the last time we will bring the ship to the place of her birth.

"For myself and the ship's company, it is a very poignant day. I'm just overawed and so grateful for the support we received from the thousands of people who came today."

The highlight of the weekend for many of the ship's company will be welcoming the public onboard.

Thousands of visitors are expected to tour the 22,000-tonne aircraft carrier, which houses aircraft such as the Harrier GR9, Merlin and Sea King helicopters.

The ship is open to visit today and tomorrow between 10am and 3.30pm.

Visitors are advised to use public transport as parking at Northumbria Quay and Royal Quays is very limited.

The ship will leave for Hamburg at 3pm on Tuesday. She will then return to Portsmouth to await a final decision on her likely decommissioning date.

CAPTION(S):

PRIDE Aircraft engineer Dan Wilson, of North Shields; right, some of the crew on the ship's final visit FAREWELL The Ark Royal arrives in the Tyne on her last visit. She was launched by Swan Hunter in 1985
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 20, 2010
Words:491
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