AN airline captain who lives in the Tyne Valley is eyeing a return to the cockpit in the new year.

The vastly experienced Capt. Sam Quigley has travelled the world over the past 30-plus years, flying passenger jets and VIP planes to stunning locations such as the Maldives and Abu Dhabi.

But the 61-year-old was struck down with a health scare in September which was diagnosed as pericarditis - inflammation of the lining of the heart.

He has since returned to non-flying duties with West Atlantic UK, which has been busier than ever this year delivering cargo including medical equipment and test kits for Covid.

It has been a difficult year for Sam, who lost his mother, Lily in November, after she tested positive to coronavirus in November, aged 85.

Yet the affable Northern Irishman, who lives at Haydon Bridge with his family, is more determined than ever to fly again.

“It’s such an incredible thing to do,” he admitted. “It’s a bug, it caught me at an early age and it got under my skin.

“Flying has enabled me to spend a week at a time in paradise, whether than be the Maldives or Las Vegas, I really have been very fortunate.”

As a boy growing up in Londonderry, Sam was used to visiting the airport to meet his father as he returned home from work trips.

One one occasion, a delayed flight led to an unexpected tour of the airport, which turned out to be life-changing.

“I was eight or nine,” said Sam. “It was quiet and we got talking to a policeman who showed us around and took us onto a plane. I was hooked, and I went on to build airfix kits -I still do.”

Despite being good at maths, Sam lacked the scientific qualifications desired by the RAF or British Airways, so he headed for Prestwick, where he learned to fly light aircraft before undertaking an instructor’s course.

He went on to become a first officer (co pilot) in Belfast, before moving up the ranks to senior first officer, and eventually captain in the summer of 1990.

Later that year, a car accident on black ice saw Sam take an unexpected year out, after breaking both legs, his right arm, and sustaining multiple fractures.

He recovered from the setback in impressive fashion. After many years with Gill Airways, Sam went on to fly the much-respected DC10 for Air Tours - becoming its youngest captain on flights, which took him from Singapore to Vegas.

Sam later represented Globespan as fleet manager, and Northern Airline, where missions included transporting VIP passengers on luxury flights.

Now settled in his current role with West Atlantic UK, Sam added: “We fly cargo across the UK and Northern Ireland, Europe and Scandanavia. I’m feeling good and easing my way back slowly.”

Sam said one of the greatest influences on his career was Capt. Bernard Draper.

He added: “Pilots retire at 65 but I feel that the older guys have a tremendous amount of experience to offer.

“I will always be grateful to Bernard who showed huge levels of patience, immense knowledge, and had the ability to communicate complex knowledge in layman’s terms. He put you at ease.”