The Sea King is craned on to the low loader before its final journey. Photo: Royal Navy

The Sea King is craned on to the low loader before its final journey. Photo: Royal Navy

Rescuers have said a fond farewell to a workhorse that has been involved in hundreds of operations helping outdoor enthusiasts in distress.

The Royal Navy’s Sea King helicopter 30 has left its Ayrshire base for decommissioning as the search and rescue crews prepare to hand over to a civilian service in the New Year.

The Mk2 Sea King XZ578 was a familiar and welcome sight to walkers, climbers and other outdoor fans in western Scotland and northern England during numerous flights to aid mountain rescue teams and carry out other mercy missions.

The aircraft left HMS Gannet at Prestwick on the back of a low-loader, destined for the great hangar in the sky.

During a colourful career, up to its final rescue on the 15 September, which involved locating a walker in the Glencoe area, helicopter 30 flew 360 times and for more than 600 hours, including its most notable rescue on 17 January this year, in which two missing climbers were rescued from Ben Nevis. The crew was later awarded the prestigious Prince Philip Helicopter Rescue Award for their efforts.

Hugh Shand, a former plane captain of XZ578 and now senior engineer at HMS Gannet, said: “The average monthly flying hours for three fully serviceable Sea Kings is 125 hours. 30 flew for a total of 129 hours during one month in 2012, when HMS Gannet’s two other aircraft were unserviceable.”

The helicopter was originally built in 1976 and was first stationed at RNAS Yeovilton from June 1977 until August 1990. It became a part of 824 Naval Air Squadron that worked out of HMS Gannet in 1997 before finally becoming part at HMS Gannet SAR Flight in March 2000.

Hugh Shand seen in front of Sea King 30. Photo: Royal Navy

Hugh Shand seen in front of Sea King 30. Photo: Royal Navy

Although it subsequently remained mostly at HMS Gannet, it had periods working out of Leuchars, Aldergrove, Inverness, Perth Scone and in Germany, to work from Kiel-Holtenau.

The helicopter’s original side number was 08 but this was later changed to 30, the number most synonymous with the helicopter for the majority of veteran flyers at HMS Gannet.

The search and rescue helicopter service will be operated from 1 January 2016 by Sikorsky S-92 aircraft operated by Bristow on behalf of the Coastguard, from a new base at nearby Prestwick Airport.

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