The Royal Navy Sea Kings of HMS Gannet have been a familiar sight in the mountains

The Royal Navy Sea Kings of HMS Gannet have been a familiar sight in the mountains

Crews at the UK’s busiest search and rescue helicopter base have started their final shift.

The men and women who fly the Royal Navy’s Sea Kings from HMS Gannet in Ayrshire will hand over duties to civilians from 1 January.

The Sea Kings from the base near Prestwick have carried out hundreds of missions to help rescue stricken walkers and climbers in Scotland and northern England. The civilian Sikorsky S-92s operated by Bristow on behalf of the Coastguard will be responsible for search and rescues previously covered by HMS Gannet and RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall from the start of 2016.

A Royal Navy spokesperson said: “The duty crews at HMS Gannet and RNAS Culdrose have started their last 24-hour shift before handing over the responsibility for UK civilian search and rescue.

“Both at 15 minutes notice during daylight and 45 minutes at night, it is ‘business as usual’ for the aviators and engineers who have helped to save countless numbers of lives since Royal Navy search and rescue began.

Yesterday, an HMS Gannet crew was in action during the floods caused by Storm Frank. The Sea King went to the rescue of 12 people, including two children, trapped on a bus by rapidly rising water near Dailly in south Ayrshire.

Ten people were airlifted from the semi-submerged bus, and two were rescued by police officers.

One of the retiring Sea Kings leaves HMS Gannet on a low loader. Photo: Royal Navy

One of the retiring Sea Kings leaves HMS Gannet on a low loader. Photo: Royal Navy

The helicopter’s winchman, Petty Officer Aircrewman Alan Speed said: “It was quite a difficult rescue because the water was flowing fast as we tried to reach the passengers.

“Despite the strong current, the team had to be quick because it was starting to get dark and we were getting low on fuel, but we had several children and older people to get to safety.”

Other crew members were Lieutenant Commander Martin Lanni, Lieutenant James Bullock and Lieutenant Richie Lightfoot.

Chief Superintendent Gillian MacDonald, strategic police commander at the scene of yesterday’s incident said: “The Royal Navy has been a key emergency services partner in Ayrshire for many years with the Sea King helicopter from HMS Gannet involved in countless incidents to search for and rescue people.

“As the crews and support staff conclude their tour of duty in Ayrshire today, I would like to extend my thanks and best wishes to colleagues who have worked tirelessly, alongside other emergency services, to help keep people safe.”

“Just yesterday, the work they do was illustrated at its best in the key role the Sea King and its crew played in rescuing 10 of the passengers from the stranded bus in Dailly which was partially filled with water and with water levels continuing to rise around it.

“The remaining passengers were taken to safety by boat in a joint effort by police, fire and RNLI crews.”
HMS Gannet has consistently been the busiest of Britain’s military search and rescue helicopter bases, helping volunteer mountain rescue teams in a large area of western Scotland and the North of England, including the Lake District.

Two Bristow-operated Coastguard Sikorksy S-92 search and rescue helicopters will be based at a new site at Prestwick Airport and a base at Newquay will also host two Bristow S-92s.

Some articles the site thinks might be related:

  1. Royal Navy Sea King makes first rescue landing on hospital pad 14 storeys up
  2. Royal Navy helicopter heroes plan final fly-past over mountain rescue scenes
  3. Royal Navy Sea King crew honoured for heroic rescue of Ben Nevis pair
  4. Five rescued in final day to remember for Royal Navy pilot Geoff Richardson
  5. Navy Sea King forced to land during rescue of Ben Nevis climbers