Sophie Dansie prepares to takes to the skies on her first solo flight after being awarded the Joanne Ethell scholarship at the Northern Rivers Aero Club.
Sophie Dansie prepares to takes to the skies on her first solo flight after being awarded the Joanne Ethell scholarship at the Northern Rivers Aero Club. Jay Cronan

Sophie's flying career takes off

DECEMBER 18, 2008, was the saddest day of Kay Ethell's life.

It was mid-morning of that otherwise normal Thursday Mrs Ethell lost her daughter, Joanne Ethell, in a tragic plane crash above Sydney.

Joanne, 20, a former St Johns College Woodlawn and Northern Rivers Aero Club student, was working as a flight instructor at the time of the crash.

While time does ease some wounds, Mrs Ethell conceded the death of her daughter left her with an ever-lasting sadness.

But through the Ethell family's grief, they were able to establish a stepping stone for a Northern Rivers flying enthusiast to carry on the dream their daughter long-held.

Mrs Ethell looked on proudly at the Northern Rivers Aero Club yesterday as Sophie Dansie embarked on her first solo flight after being awarded the inaugural Joanne Ethell Memorial Scholarship.

The scholarship was established in 2009 by Mrs Ethell, her husband Gryff and the Northern Rivers Aero Club in memory of Joanne.

Joanne began flying when she was 15, much like 17-year-old Sophie.

Sophie has spent the past two months learning to fly with senior flight instructor Sam Todhunter.

“I always had a real interest in flying and it was something I wanted to pursue,” Sophie said.

“I did work experience at the aero club and did a trial introductory flight and knew it was what I wanted to do.

“The fact I was awarded the scholarship makes it more special.

"I really want to make them (Mr and Mrs Ethell) proud and carry on their daughter's legacy.”

Sophie, a Trinity Catholic College student, was unsure what avenue she wanted to take in the aviation industry, but was confident she would make a career out of it.

Mr Todhunter, a former Royal Australian Air Force member, said Sophie was a “quiet and obedient student”.

“She was very obedient, which was good as one thing about flying is you need self-discipline,” he said.

Mrs Ethell said it was nice to have helped Sophie break into the aviation industry.

“Bill Kiernan (Northern Rivers Aero Club chief flying instructor) spoke to us about setting up a scholarship and I thought it was a great idea and a way to give something back,” she said.

“We always wanted to give back to someone who wants to do something with the scholarship and who wanted to follow it through.

“This is the hardest bit, getting the opportunity to take that first step and to be able to help someone with that, it's a really nice feeling for us.”



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