A Fond Farewell to the SAR Sea kings from RAF Lossiemouth .
On the First of April 2015 we say farewell in the Highlands to the RAF Sea Kings from RAF Lossiemouth in Morayshire. The new contract will result in Bristow’s taking over the SAR Contract for the UK and I wish them well for the future. The new aircraft is long overdue and it will be a tremendous addition to SAR in the UK. The RAF and Royal Navy Sea Kings have been a huge part of my life as 40 years was spent involved with Mountain Rescue. The main period 37 years with the RAF Mountain Rescue Service. I also worked in the Aeronautical Rescue Co Ordination Centre at Kinloss working with the SAR Military Assets throughout UK. Helicopters have been a huge part of my life even though flying terrified me! I was with the RAF Sea King in the early days in the 70’s when it was in the process of taking over from the Wessex.
In these early days we were very wary as the Sea King it was a massive change from “the sports car type helicopter” of the Wessex to this to us huge aircraft. We had lots of changes to get used to from size and the increased downdraft of the rotors but it could take so many more passengers and you could even get a cup of tea at times after a long job! What a bonus!
My first impression on a call –out was in Lurchers crag above the Larig Gru in the Cairngorms when we had found two walkers who had fallen over this huge cliff. It was an amazing site as in wild weather and in the dark this huge aircraft hovered on lights full on like a spaceship and took the casualties off. Even better it came back for most of us saving a huge walk out. The familiar thud of the Sea Kings rotors became that noise you could hear miles away it meant help was on hand and spirits rose. The Great blizzards in 1978 showed us what this incredible aircraft could do and I had an amazing week at Inverness working with the crews. Landing on a blocked A9/ A82 and even rescuing a passengers on a stuck train where part of the highlights for me.
I was at RAF Kinloss and trained a lot with the RAF Lossiemouth Sea kings and later did lots of training on Night Vision Goggles (NVG) these were not easy times and training in a huge aircraft in the dark took incredible flying skill even with NVG’S. These skills were hard learned and were to become so accepted by the Mountain Rescue Teams, rescues became common place in a dark winter’s night on big mountain cliff. We became efficient and learned working as a team together, it was an incredible time many may call it “the Golden Age Of SAR?”
The Royal Navy became a huge part of Mountain Rescue in Scotland and the GANNET ( Prestwick) Sea King became another incredible asset in the mountains. When I moved to RAF Leuchars Mountain Rescue in Fife I worked with the Navy on many occasions and again it took time to work together and learn the small differences that could be so important. We soon had a great working relationship and it was amazing to see what this huge aircraft and its crew could do in the wildest of weather. We also gave the aircrew outdoor gear, it was amazing to think that the crews wore flying boots on the hill in winter and we had a battle supporting the crews to get proper bad weather gear with the powers that be. We also did training with the keener winch men and many of the crews came out for weekends with us in their own time. The crews all are real characters too many to mention and we made friends with so many over the years and it was a great bond that was made by the Teams, the Police and the other Agencies. I was lucky as many a time after a climb or big walk the call would come over the radio anyone needing a lift a magic sound. The big yellow helicopter would arrive and in a few minutes we would be back off the mountain. These were definitely the Golden Years of SAR, days of night stops on Ben Nevis, Glencoe, Skye, Kintail, Breamar and other places and seeing the Sea King outside a highland Hotel for lunch was special!. As the equipment improved so did the skills of the crews and the medical skills by the winch-man are now first class and recognised throughout the world.
On the massive searches the SEA Kings moved so many searchers into areas and became a huge asset and the incredible flying skills on the big cliffs is something to see the bravery and professionalism of the crews was outstanding.
I will never forget flying into military aircraft crashes as this was our primary task in the RAF MRT and one that the military helicopters were formed for. One that sticks out was in Skye in 1982 on a wild winter’s night; we had to land on twice on the main road due to the weather conditions. It was the same at Lockerbie, the Chinook Crash on the Mull of Kintyre and the Shackelton on Harris and may others. On these occasions the crew were incredible as always they were pulling out all the stops to get us there despite the conditions, and incredible flying as always. I was with the crews on the odd time where we were diverted to a ship in trouble and to see them operate on a tossing ship’s deck was amazing to see and glad I was not aircrew!.
I was there when the Sea King crashed in Creag Mheaghaidh and the crew, Lochaber MRT walked away from a near tragedy. Someone has been watching I feel from above on that and many occasions and the Safety record of the Sea King was incredible. They got parked overnight in a few places but what an incredible story they have. I also lost several great friends on the hills and when Mark and Neil were killed on Lochnagar many years ago they were recovered by Rescue 137. I spoke to crew afterwards and they were very kind as were Breamar MRT in a time of great sadness for me and the families. The crews and all who fly in them and maintain them are incredible people and I hope that what they have done is appreciated over the years and I will have a wee thought about them over the next few days.
They have been busy in the last few days and have gone out with a blast saving lives like up to the last moment. What days, what people the best of the best, thanks for the memories and for all the lives enhanced by this amazing flying machine and all those who flew and worked on the Sea King in this wild country.
It is great news that many of the crews will still be flying in SAR with Bristow’s and I wish them a safe and successful future.
Thanks again so many memories of great days and even better incredible people.
Heavy Whalley March 2015.