Happy 21st, here's the keys to an aircraft carrier

LIBBY WILSON
Last updated 07:46 20/12/2013
Sarah Thomas
IN CHARGE: Acting lieutenant Sarah Thomas.

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Sarah Thomas wasn't given the key to the door when she turned 21 in April.

Instead, the former Thames woman was given the controls of a British aircraft carrier.

Acting lieutenant Thomas is serving on the light carrier HMS Illustrious during a one-year exchange with the Royal Navy in Portsmouth in the United Kingdom.

It's a 209-metre ship with a crew of 885 and a 168-metre flight deck.

As Officer of the Watch, she has four-hour sole-charge watches on the bridge, and acts as the captain's representative there.

"I am responsible for all aspects of safety on the ship - especially from risk of collision and execution of navigation," she said.

"In Illustrious, a big part of my job is manoeuvring the ship to provide wind limitations for the launch and recovery of aircraft."

Thomas' father, Dave Thomas said he was "overawed" when he heard about his daughter's responsibilities on the ship.

"It's mind boggling. She's only 21 . . . At her age, it's unbelievable. You just can't take it all in."

Her family gets regular texts, emails, and photos of all the places in the world she's seeing. Singapore, the Middle East, the Philippines - India is the next stop.

Despite a job which keeps her moving all over the world, she found time to get presents sent home in time for Christmas.

Her family do worry when they hear she's been sent to a trouble spot.

"If something blows up in the world they'll probably be one of the first there," said Mr Thomas.

The Illustrious is acting as the UK's high-readiness helicopter and commando carrier, and was sent at short notice from counter-piracy operations off the Somalian coast to assist with aid to the Philippines.

During the rapid response Thomas was involved in navigating the ship's passage across the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal at maximum speed before travelling through the Malacca and Singapore Straits - regarded as the busiest traffic lanes in the world.

"Then it was a case of navigating through the thousands of islands in the Philippines, launching and recovering aircraft to deliver stores and personnel to the worst-affected areas," she said.

It's the perfect career for Thomas, who joined the Royal New Zealand Navy in 2010 following Year 13 at Thames High School.

Three years and 15 countries later she is still loving her job.

"I would recommend a career in the navy to anyone who is up for a challenge, and who doesn't mind a bit of hard work and has a sense of adventure."

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libby.wilson@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

- Waikato Times

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