UK: Helicopters of HMS Gannet – Busiest Rescuers for Fifth Year Running

Helicopters of HMS Gannet - Busiest Rescuers for Fifth Year Running

The helicopters of HMS Gannet were once again the busiest military search and rescuers in the land in 2011 – for the fifth year running.The Sea Kings of the Prestwick-based unit were scrambled on 298 occasions last year, while their Cornish counterparts in 771 Naval Air Squadron flew 244 rescue missions – making the Fleet Air Arm responsible for three in every ten rescues flown in 2011.

The Prestwick-based Sea King fliers were called out no fewer than 298 times last year – rescuing or helping 240 souls in the process.

It’s the fifth consecutive year that the ‘mountain kings’ – most call-outs are in the Highlands – clocked up the most rescues around our sceptred isle.

One in every six of the 1,798 rescues flown by the eight Royal Navy and RAF search and rescue units in 2011 was made by the team at Gannet.

The Fleet Air Arm’s other SAR unit, 771 Naval Air Squadron at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall, was scrambled 244 times last year – which means that overall, naval aviators accounted for three in every ten rescue missions in 2011.

As for Gannet, whose domain covers 98,000 square miles of Scotland, northern England, Northern Ireland and the Irish Sea, the extreme operational tempo in the last five years has seen the distinctive red and grey Sea King Mk5s respond to 1865 call-outs, which led to the rescue of 1,575 people.

Gannet’s Commanding Officer Lt Cdr Debdash Bhattacharya said 2011 was actually a relatively quiet year by the unit’s recent standards: over the past five years his Sea Kings have averaged 372 missions annually.

“It is with huge pride that I am able to commend and thank the whole team at HMS Gannet – from the aircrews to the engineers, the met office to the administrative staff, and all the other supporting personnel like security staff – for once again maintaining and running this well-oiled operation which saves lives at a moment’s notice in often-terrible conditions across an area of 98,000 square miles,” he added.

“2011 was actually a slightly quieter year, though no less taxing for the crews.

“Nonetheless, this is an exceptional achievement and one of which each and every person involved with operations at HMS Gannet should be extraordinarily proud.”

The official figures compiled by Defence Analytical Services Agency show that Gannet’s average call-out was to a distance of 53 miles from the unit and lasted one hour and 35 minutes. In all, its helicopters spent more than 600 hours on rescue

The longest and farthest flung sortie of 2011 was a medical evacuation at Wick in Caithness – many miles outside the unit’s usual coverage area – which lasted 20 minutes short of 12 hours and involved a round-trip of 465 miles.

Other stand-out sorties of last year were:


  • a young fisherman is given life-saving treatment by a Gannet paramedic before being airlifted to Glasgow, after his foot became entangled in a fishing net, dragging him over the side of his boat and under water for approximately 10 minutes.
  • rescue of climber Adam Potter who fell an astonishing 1,000ft down Sgurr Choinnich Mor in the Nevis Range and survived. He was treated initially on scene by HMS Gannet’s paramedic and a visiting doctor before being transferred to Glasgow. Undeterred by this ‘mishap’, he went on to conquer Mount Everest later in the year.


  • seven people and a dog rescued in the face of rising tides from the cliff base near Fingal’s Cave on Staffa after their boat capsized.


  • aircraft diverted from routine medical transfer of an elderly woman from Gigha to Glasgow to rescue two people, one with a broken arm, from a 50ft two-masted yacht at anchor off the island, after they became stranded on board in a gale. A difficult winch manoeuvre with the yacht’s masts pitching violently in the fierce seas and strong wind. All three were successfully transferred to Glasgow.


  • hours old baby airlifted to Glasgow from Oban in atrocious weather – helicopter operating at night in low visibility had to abort two landing attempts before making it third time lucky.


  • lone walker lifted to safety from Beinn Sgulaird in Argyll in dark, sub-zero conditions with negligible visibility in cloud, after sustaining an ankle injury. The helicopter was forced to ascend exceptionally slowly and perilously close to the mountain’s rock face, which was the only visual reference available. The crew was then immediately retasked to assist Glencoe MRT with a further two climbers lost on the notorious Aonach Eagach ridge.

Naval Today Staff , February 10, 2012; Image: royalnavy