From inside Moray
Only a few weeks remain during which the iconic yellow Sea King rescue helicopters will be seen in the skies over Moray.
The familiar and much loved aircraft are due to be withdrawn from service at the end of this month to be replaced by a civilian SAR source using Inverness Airport as their main north base.
Morayvia, the group working towards preserving Moray’s rich aviation history, will continue their campaign to obtain one of the aircraft flown from RAF Lossiemouth, with these aspirations on hold until the Ministry of Defence take a decision over how they plan to dispose of the Sea King.
Today insideMoray is delighted to feature the thoughts and memories of BBC Scotland newsreader Sally McNair of the Sea King, and why she believes one of these wonderful aircraft must remain in Moray.
Sally writes: “I first became aware of the significance of the SAR helicopters – and crews – nearly 35 years ago when I was a novice reporter at Aberdeen Journals.
“I’d be sent out on stories when the teams were deployed to mountain rescues or maritime emergencies and I’d meet the individuals and families at the centre of the dramas. Fairly often I went to the base at Lossiemouth – for Royal Visits or local tales or political campaigns.
“In the years since I’ve been honoured and humbled to get to know some of the SAR crews there – sometimes as a reporter and occasionally when playing a bit part in Mark Mair’s unceasing efforts at fund-raising!
“I’ve friends who live in the area and as a cub reporter I stayed in Elgin for a few months – but even a day trip visitor could not fail to realise how big a role the air bases have played in shaping the local communities.
“I well remember one night, as a reporter at BBC Scotland, following up reports of a French fishing boat in trouble off the Outer Hebrides. Conditions that night were horrendous, waves higher than buildings, freezing temperatures, howling winds. The rescue team had less than half an hour to pull all eighteen crew out of the water and winch them into the Sea King, and fly back to land.
“They achieved it – somehow – in twenty minutes, and were practically running on hope rather than the tiny amount of fuel left when they touched down in Stornoway. Amazing stuff – George Clooney should make a film about it, and that’s only one story from one night. There are thousands more tales to be told.
“How can I describe the rescue crews I’ve had the privilege of meeting? Well if it had to be a single word, if would probably be mad!
Magicians with nerves of steel
“They are magicians, escapologists, with nerves of steel, the courage of lions and a dark sense of humour. James Bond crossed with Houdini and just a touch of inventor James Dyson. In saving others, they routinely put their own lives on the line.
“Time moves on, technology improves, governments make decisions. Aside from the personal and economic losses felt by the closure of the SAR facilities, it’s vital that a piece – a huge piece – of Moray’s history endures.
“And that’s what Morayvia can do. Present and future generations can appreciate the part their community has played – how many people were employed at the air bases?
“The impact of the dark metal hangars on the landscape, the familiar screaming across the skies above of Nimrods, and the growling, regular whirring of the Sea King helicopters.
“Children and tourists can get up close and personal with the huge hulks of metal that have hovered over mountain ridges and roaring seas as their dare-devil pilots tested their skills to the limit, and fearless winchmen hauled injured and exhausted climbers, and terrified crews into the refuge of the helicopter – and on to hospital, or better still, home.
“Morayvia will help keep this chapter in Scotland’s history alive. And how better to bring such tales of real life derring-do to the public than to let people see and feel the aircraft, and clamber inside – marvelling at the skills of the pilots, operating in the dark, in the wind, in the storm.
“Touching the winch – seeing the lifesaving equipment, imagining the relief of those hauled inside.
“I give my whole hearted support to Morayvia, and look forward to the day when, hopefully, I get a guided tour of the Sea King there.”
The wonderful sign of the Sea King heading out over the Moray Firth is a wonderful sight and to the small fishing villages of the North East they are well – loved. Many who work at sea have great memories of the Yellow bird that has saved so many lives. As a mountain Rescuer I have had some incredible trips in the Sea King in my days of RAF Mountain Rescue and met many of the aircrew and ground crew who made this aircraft so special. I was around just after the aircraft came in service in 1969 and spent some incredible times flying with these amazing man and women and there incredible flying machines. We had some times and getting dropped off in wild places from the Old Man Of Hoy to the pinacles on An Teallach . Liathach and Aonach Eag in Glencoe. Learning to use Night Vision Goggles scary flights in wild weather to the Cairngorms and Ben Nevis and landing on roads in blizzards incredible times. There were also wild flights to Skye in winter and so many call out it is hard to explain. How many lives have they saved in the mountains and at sea plus all the other medical evacuations they have carried out over the years we will never know? When the aircraft is retired this year it will be an enormous loss but there is a plan afoot maybe to save one and keep it in Moray as part of an aviation visitor attraction.
Thousands of people in Moray are lining up to back a move that it is hoped will retain one of the iconic Sea King helicopters in the region following their retirement in March.
The campaign launched at the weekend by Morayvia, the group seeking to create an Aviation-based visitor attraction in the region, has enjoyed a spectacular start in its bid to add a Sea King to its collection that already includes the last remaining Nimrod aircraft.
A specially commissioned limited edition of ten prints signed by the crew who took them on a flight from RAF Lossiemouth on New Year’s Day were offered for sale at £100 on Saturday – prints numbered 2-10 were quickly snapped up, while No.1 will be auctioned via insideMoray.
The campaign received another massive boost on Tuesday when an anonymous benefactor handed over £2000 for the cause.
Speaking for Morayvia last night Mark Mair said: “We are astonished and delighted at the reaction to our appeal following its launch on insideMoray at the weekend.
“We opened a social media page on Facebook and inside 48 hours over 3500 people lent their support, the reaction from the people of Moray and beyond has been absolutely tremendous.
“While we have several celebrities who have also stepped forward to voice their support it is the reaction of so many ordinary people who quite clearly care deeply for the work that has been done by RAF and Navy crews flying these helicopters over the years that is quite touching.”
The Sea King has been a familiar sight over Moray having first been brought into service in 1969. It is being retired at the end of March, with SAR duties being taken on by civilian crews and new state-of-the-art AW189s aircraft operating from Inverness Airport.