This Blog is dedicated to the Royal Navy SAR Sea Kings at Prestwick ( Gannet) who end their great contribution to SAR at the New Year. hopefully their will be many tributes from many others for their incredible service by the crews, the Engineers,and support services over the years. Over these incredible years they have been a great asset in Scotland and the UK and I and many of the” Old and bold” will miss them and their wonderful service.
I was born in Ayrshire and the other day on a visit home and saw the wonderful Gannet (Prestwick) Sea King flying over the sea with a backdrop of Arran. It was stirring emotionally seeing this great old aircraft for maybe for the last time and flying in a places that mean so much to me. I have been heavily involved in SAR as a member of the RAF Mountain Rescue Service for 36 years and then for a few more years with the Torridon Team. I was also very privileged to work with the helicopter crews in the early days as a Team Leader at RAF Leuchars and RAF Kinloss and even went down a few times as Team Leader to Prestwick to give some advice in the early days for the oncoming winters. The Navy Sea King was a bit different from the RAF one at that time as it was an anti-submarine aircraft and had a big fuel tank inside the aircraft and the dome with all the submarine gear made it look a bigger aircraft on the hill. There was limited room inside and with a stretcher in it was tight but what an aircraft.
Earlier in the late 70’s and it was a bit of work involved getting used to this different aircraft by Mountain Rescue and as a military team we got asked to help . 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 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! It could also fly more at night and the night vision goggles were well used and some scary moments and memories are often spoke about.
We soon got our systems sorted out and had a few adventures we did some extra training with each other. This helped getting to know each other and was especially getting the air crew some gear for the hills especially in winter! 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 from our basic kit, 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 and winter gear. Over the years what an effect the Royal Navy Sea Kings have had in SAR, what a great asset and have added an extra dimension to SAR over the years. Scotland was never an easy place to work and how well the crews adapted to the changes in environment and change of task. I was also lucky to have had even more contact when I worked in the ARCC (Aeronautical Rescue Co Ordination Centre) On this task I was working with the Royal Navy SAR crews all over the UK. These were great days and I had a great liaison with the crews they have some real characters, many I now class as friends.
Many of their call –outs were in the mountains but they also covered the sea and wilder place in bad weather and the remote Islands on the West Coast. There are many great tales of adventure in these SAR incidents so many stories and memories. I have been privileged to be with them on many rescues on the great Mountains of Scotland, from the Arran Hills, Glencoe, Ben Nevis and Skye and even the Islands. I did a few call –outs to Barra and Jura, wild days on aircraft incidents and others on Mountain incidents on Arran, Rum and Skye. We will never know how many lives that they have saved over the years? They regularly took new born babies to hospital on wild nights when no other transport was available, they are so loved in these wild places by all. I was also with them on a few incidents at sea where they show their i ncredible skills another world from the mountains.
The Royal Navy Sea Kings leave Scotland Gannet (Prestwick ) I think on the 31 Dec 2015 it will be a sad day for many and you cannot stand in the way of progress but what a bunch of people and a privilege to work with. These skills learned in the early days were hard learned and were to become so accepted by the Mountain Rescue Teams, the Coastguard and other Agencies. In the end rescues became common place in a dark winter’s night on big mountain cliff or over the sea. We became efficient and learned working as a team together; it was an incredible time many may call it “the Golden Age Of SAR?”
My first Call – out with the Royal Navy Sea King was at Ben Dorian on 13 Feb 1977 when the Royal Navy Sea King was in the early days of SAR. It was a wild day for three climbers stuck overnight in a gully we were with Glencoe MRT. I was amazed and impressed by the aircraft coming in such wild weather! This big huge grey like beast sneaking up onto the summit in wild weather made it a day that I was to experience on so many occasions all over Scotland.
|3 crag fast climbers. Rescued alive and well. First call –out with the Royal Navy Sea King, Wild flying by the crew who sneaked onto the summit in wild weather, heavy snow to pick up the exhausted climbers. Hamish MacInnes used the photo in one of his books on High Adventure.|
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. Have a safe winter and many thanks for all the memories.
The Sea Kings may have been busy in the last few days and may go 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.
God Bless you all and many thanks for all you have done for Scotland and its people and for SAR all over the UK. Safe flying on your last sorties I will be round Roybridge just before New Year and may see you for the last time. I am sure many more will be thanking the Navy Sea Kings for all their efforts over the years and if you can please share this blog.
With thanks for all the help and photos from so many of my pals in Mountain Rescue.
HMS Gannet is a Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm establishment based at RNAS Prestwick in Scotland that also hosts Gannet SAR Flight. It operated two from three Sea Kings Mk5 helicopters in the military and civilian SAR role across Scotland, Northern England and Northern Ireland. The crews cover an area from Ben Nevis in the north, the Isle Of Man and the Lake District to the south, east to Edinburgh, the Firth Of Forth and the Borders, west to Northern Ireland and extends 200 miles (320 km) west of Ireland over the north Atlantic, giving an operational area of approx. 98,000 square miles.