Northern Ireland adventurer touches down on the spot where his record-breaking odyssey took off
Larne's magnificent miracle man in his James Bond-style flying machine, Norman Surplus, completed his round-the-world adventure yesterday evening - touching down on a cricket pitch only yards from his front door.
Norman, who beat bowel cancer several years ago, was welcomed home by his wife Celia and their teenage children Petra and Felix after he conquered his pioneering global challenge in his yellow gyrocopter nicknamed Roxy.
The remarkable solo flier had been hoping to go around the world in 120 days but, in the end, his epic trek lasted five years thanks to bad weather and red tape… in Russia.
As the 52-year-old adventurer set his gyro down in Sandy Bay playing fields beside his Bay Park home to the soundtrack of Wagner's Flight Of The Valkyries, his first words as he gave a smile and a thumbs-up were: "Hello Larne!"
Scores of townspeople turned up to cheer and applaud him on his return at 7.06pm yesterday. Celia, who had been following her husband's flights on an internet tracker, kissed him after he emerged from a media scrum and said: "I'm just glad to have him back"
A three-strong flying column of friends' gyros had accompanied Norman on the last leg of his journey from Oban in Scotland after he'd flown from the Faroe Islands via Lewis in the Western Isles.
On the ground, members of the RNLI - for whom Norman used to act as a coxswain - set off flares and the Fire Service was standing by. But more importantly for Norman, his welcoming party also included volunteers from Bowel Cancer UK, the charity for whom he has raised over £3,000.
The courageous cancer survivor said he wanted his globetrotting odyssey across 27,000 miles on his gyro, registration G-YROX, to give other sufferers a lift and also to raise awareness of bowel cancer.
"There is hope after surgery and chemotherapy. In many ways this has been a very personal journey for me but I have managed to involve the whole world in it," he said.
Norman only took up gyro flying after he was given the all-clear by the doctors treating his cancer. He said he had learnt a lot about himself and about people during his travels and travails on his voyage of discovery.
"Another important message which I am bringing home is about the generosity and humanity of people right around the world," he said.
"Every country I went to, people helped me and I couldn't have done it without them."
Norman took off on his adventure in March 2010 from the same field where he landed last night.
His home is at one end of the park. The house where he was born is at the other. But he's seen the world in the last five years.
He had wanted to smash the record for circumnavigating the globe but his dreams were grounded after he was refused permission to fly over Russian airspace and his gyro was stuck in Japan for three years before being transported by boat to his next port of call.
Norman also encountered difficulties from forest fires to thunderstorms - and at one point he landed in a lake in Thailand.
The list of countries he flew over is breathtaking, everywhere from Oman to Bangladesh, Malaysia to Qatar and from France to Italy, where his craft was laughingly dubbed by a number of his friends as the Gyro d'Italia.
Norman wasn't away from home all the time, travelling back to Larne to sort out problems before returning to his trusty gyro.
But a number of records did fall along his flight path for himself and the aircraft.
"I've lost count but I think I managed to set up about 16 world records in flying from countries to countries," he said. "And that has been fantastic for auto-gyros in general because they haven't flown very far even though they've been flying for 92 years since they were invented."
The most famous gyro was featured in Sean Connery's Bond movie You Only Live Twice and was called Little Nellie.
Yesterday, Celia took to a microphone to urge well-wishers to "make some noise" for her husband as he circled Larne Cricket Club's pitch with its hastily prepared windsock in the shape of a shark. Now she's hoping for a quieter life.
"He missed every summer at home but maybe our lives will get back to normal now," she said.
She last saw her husband in June before he set off for America to resume his adventure across the Atlantic - which he described as "awesome".
As for Norman, he said he doubted if he would attempt a second lap of his flight of fancy and explained what he was looking forward to most about his return to Co Antrim was the prospect of a warmer climate after being stuck in cold countries like Greenland in recent times.
No one in Larne had the heart to tell him about how grim the weather here has been in his absence...