Moment Joel Fitzgibbon got call about soldier son’s fatal parachuting incident

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Former Labor defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon has opened up about the death of his son, Lance Corporal Jack Fitzgibbon, in a heartbreaking television interview.

Jack died after suffering critical injuries in a parachuting incident during special forces training at RAAF Base Richmond in northern Sydney on March 6.

Mr Fitzgibbon described the life-changing moment he got the call about his son’s accident as “the worst” of his life.

“I was at a restaurant in Sydney when I got that call and it was obviously the worst moment of my life,” he told host Erin Molan on her show, Erin, on Sky News Australia.

“I was trying to be optimistic about it, trying to think the best, but when Richard Marles, the defence minister, called me about halfway out there, having made those calls myself, I knew for the minister to be advised, it was very, very serious.”

He added that he later said to Mr Marles: “It was rather ironic I used to make these calls, never expecting that I’d be taking one.”

An emotional Mr Fitzgibbon said he would miss playing golf and having a beer with his 33-year-old son the most.

“I’ll miss texting him during the footy,” he added.

“It was a constant commentary through the (Newcastle Knights) game, texting. He’d be in Cronulla watching it and I’d be home watching it.”

He said he had lost interest in the footy since Jack’s death but hoped it would come back.

“But I won’t be texting him. That opportunity will never come back,” he said through tears.

Mr Fitzgibbon, who served as defence minister from 2007 to 2009, said despite the tragedy, he didn’t regret his son being in the Army.

He said the family was “enormously comforted” by the fact Jack, an experienced parachutist, died doing what he loved and in service to his country.

“It’s an honourable way to die, I guess is the blunt way of putting it,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

He said it was his wife, Di Fitzgibbon, who worried about Jack the most during his military career, whereas he convinced himself everything would be okay.

“I mean your son is jumping out of aeroplanes at 24,000 feet, it doesn’t seem very rational, but you convince yourself he’ll be OK,” he said.

“His mother worried more than I did, but not excessively and he’d always say ‘we’ll be right mum, it’s not a problem’.

“I never really worried about him, I was more worried about him out on the town, potentially driving or being in someone’s car at the wrong time than I did about him jumping out of aeroplanes.”

An investigation into the cause of Jack’s death is currently underway.

Mr Fitzgibbon said they were “not going to be an angry family” but they owed it to Jack “and those who will still jump … to ask the hard questions”.

He said it was “very sad” he had three children and “now there are two”.

He described his son as “a serial pest” who used to “push his mother and sister’s buttons all the time”.

“And he got himself into trouble a couple of times, always when he’d been drinking too much alcohol, but I thought I knew maybe 10 per cent of the stories, I now know we knew about one per cent,” he said.

He said he only found out Jack had been mentoring a young man after his death, and that he used to stand up for a girl who was bullied in school.

“He’s a guy that both drove people nuts but made them happy. He made them laugh,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

“I suppose his legacy will be the fact he’ll be missed by so many. So many.”

At the end of the interview, Mr Fitzgibbon brought attention to the Commando Welfare Trust, which provides emergency and long-term financial support to Special Forces soldiers, veterans and family members.

Lance Corporal Fitzgibbon was farewelled at a packed service at St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Cessnock on March 18, with a large contingent of MPs, defence personnel and locals in attendance.

His sister, TV reporter Grace Fitzgibbon, told tearful attendees she was shattered by the loss but would continue to carry her brother’s memory “in my bones”.

“As your little sister, I promise to step up and protect our family through anything life may throw at us,” she said.

“Whenever there are questions to be answered or decisions to make I’ll simply ask myself: ‘What would Jack do?’ I love you more than you will ever know.”

Ms Fitzgibbon’s older sister, Caitlin, choked up talking about how the decorated soldier will not get to meet his first nephew, but how she knew her brother would watch over him.

“Your last message to me was telling me that a big Hulk baby boy is what we want. That big boy will know everything there is about this Uncle Jack,” she said.

In a prerecorded message, mother Di Fitzgibbon told the service her life changed with a knock on the door and that she never “gave up” on her son.

She told the service the soldier was at his “happiest” before his death and was ready to “get the next chapter of his life started” with his new partner.

“We have laughed so much about your various exploits these past weeks because your mother’s worry is no longer attached,” she said through tears.

With NCA Newswire

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