HMS Gannet hands over to Bristow at Prestwick

HMS Gannet hands over to Bristow at Prestwick

The crest of the former Royal Navy helicopter rescue base will hang in the new civilian service’s crewroom in recognition of the history and heritage of the Scottish operation.

HMS Gannet’s staff handed over responsibility for rescue operations to Bristow’s crews on 1 January, marking the end of more than 40 years of military flights rescuing outdoor enthusiasts from the hills.

It was the final handover to the new service being run under the control of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which now handles all search and rescue operations in the UK.

Its Sikorsky S-92 helicopters will cover Scotland, northern England and Northern Ireland from the Prestwick base, replacing the ageing red and grey Sea Kings of the Royal Navy.

Speaking at the handover, commanding officer of HMS Gannet, Lieutenant Commander Charlie Fuller, said: “Every day has been a privilege. It has been a great honour to command a unit that has helped save lives and which has made such an impact throughout Scotland, Northern Ireland and the North of England.

“We have consistently been one of the busiest search and rescue units in the whole of the UK and the holder of the record number of SAR jobs in a year ever. We have enjoyed immense support from the local communities of Ayrshire as well as the Highlands and Isles that make up our ‘patch’.

“The crews, supporting engineers and staff of HMS Gannet have all contributed to the unit’s success and I thank them for their hard work and bravery.”

Ready to fly at 15 minutes notice during the day and 45 minutes by night, HMS Gannet’s area covered 98,000 sq nautical miles (336,131 sq km). It was one of the largest search areas within the UK, stretching from Ben Nevis in the North, south to the Isle of Man and Lake District, east to Edinburgh and the Borders, west to Northern Ireland and a further 200 miles west of Ireland. The massive areas meant the crews were called to deal with anything from a sinking vessel to a fallen climber with everything in between.

HMS Gannet SAR flight was the busiest unit in the UK from 2005 to 2010, with a record-breaking 447 rescues undertaken in 2009. 2015, Gannet’s final year in search and rescue, saw the crews complete more than 300 rescues, making it the busiest in the UK once again.

Their assistance to the public in distress gained them numerous awards for bravery, with the pilots and rescue crews being involved in major operations such as the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988 and also Lockerbie the same year. Most recently Gannet was called to Cumbria to help rescue efforts during Storm Desmond.

Over the past few weeks HMS Gannet personnel have been ensuring a smooth handover to the Bristow Helicopter team at Prestwick, many of whom are ex-military pilots previously based with the squadron.

Lieutenant Commander Fuller said: “We have done our best to ensure the Bristow crews have the best start possible.

“In turn, their crews, who are mostly ex-military SAR crew, have paid us the tremendous honour of mounting our ship’s crest in their crewroom as recognition of our time and their heritage.”

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