Instead of getting down on one knee, aircraft mechanic Gavin Quigley stunned his long-time partner, Christina Mulligan, on Saturday by popping the question on a giant sky banner which was flown past their aircraft as they cruised at 1,000ft off the south-west coast.
And when Gavin produced an engagement ring in the aircraft cabin, an elated Christina said ‘yes’ — clearing the couple for marriage.
Christina was still walking on air yesterday as the couple look forward to planning their wedding.
Gavin, 30, said it took months to plan the fly-by proposal and military precision to execute it.
“It was a tough one to organise but it was well worth it,” he said.
Gavin and Christina, who are both from Dundalk, began dating when they were 15. Now living in Grange, in Cork, they have a little boy, Calvin, who will be 3 in November.
Gavin, a mechanic with Bond Helicopters in Cork, said given his interest in aviation, he wanted to do something spectacular for the proposal.
He persuaded Christina and Calvin to board a Piper Cheroke aircraft at Cork Airport last Saturday under the pretence they were going to fly to the Abbeyshrule airfield festival in Co Longford.
With Atlantic Flight Training Academy (AFTA) pilot Shane Collins at the controls, the aircraft took off but headed south west.
“I had to lie about where we were going — otherwise it wouldn’t have worked,” Gavin said.
“Christina’s sense of direction wouldn’t be the best at the best of times so she had no idea that we were actually heading towards Bantry.”
Meanwhile, Atlantic Flight instructor Gerry Humphreys, who had taken off in his Bellanca Super Decathlon aircraft earlier, was already at Bantry airfield picking up the giant sky banner.
As Shane and his passengers closed in on Bantry, he radioed Gerry who positioned his aircraft alongside the Piper Cheroke at just the right time.
Gavin said when Christina looked out the window and saw the banner which read: ‘Christina — will U marry me?’ trailing behind, she was lost for words and shed tears of joy.
“It took her a few seconds to click but when I turned around and produced the ring from my pocket, it really hit her,” he said.
“She said ‘yes’ there and then. We were all delighted.”
Champagne corks popped when the aircraft landed and Gavin’s mother, Marie and his brother Kieran, arrived to congratulate the couple.
Gavin thanked both pilots, all the staff at AFTA, especially Ben Hunter, Brian O’Keeffe and Mark Casey who kept the mission top-secret, along with Denis Connolly at Bantry Airfield, for making the dream come true.
The family spent the weekend celebrating in the Maritime Hotel in Bantry.