SAR60 Aappeal for Help in Scotland

SAR60 Aappeal for Help in Scotland

In 1953, the Royal Navy’s helicopter search and rescue service was founded, making 2013 its 60th anniversary of saving lives at sea and on land. And it’s looking for a little bit of help from the people of Scotland, where the red and grey liveried Sea Kings are a familiar sight across the nation.

To celebrate this significant diamond milestone, an appeal is being made to both former Royal Navy search and rescue crew members, as well as those who have been rescued by one of the Senior Service helicopters, to come forward with their stories.

These tales will help form the back bone of an on-going project to bring together all aspects of the service within a comprehensive archive – preserving the history for years to come.

Over the six decades, Royal Navy search and rescue has, at some time, operated out of a total of 11 bases, eight of them now either decommissioned or no longer in RN hands. Two of these were in Scotland at RNAS Lossiemouth, also known as HMS Fulmar, from 1953 to 1963 and HMS Gannet at Prestwick from 1971 to present.

There was also a base at RNAS Anthorn in Cumbria on the Solway Firth, which not only served the north of England, but also extended its reach into southern Scotland – most notably Dumfries and Galloway and The Borders. The others are:

  • RNAS Eglinton / HMS Gannet near Londonderry, Northern Ireland
  • RNAS Ford / HMS Peregrine near Littlehampton in Sussex
  • RNAS Brawdy / HMS Goldcrest in SW Wales near Haverfordwest
  • RNAS Gosport / HMS Siskin in Hampshire
  • RNAS Lee-on-Solent / HMS Daedalus in Hampshire
  • RNAS Portland / HMS Osprey in Portland Harbour, Dorset
  • RNAS Culdrose / HMS Seahawk in Helston, Cornwall
  • RNAS Yeovilton / HMS Heron in Somerset

Of the above, Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose and HMS Gannet in Prestwick continue to operate this lifesaving service – together carrying out well over 500 sorties a year to people in distress. RNAS Yeovilton remains operational, but no longer has a SAR capability.

HMS Gannet covers a vast area of Scotland, northern England and Northern Ireland, from the Lake District and Borders in the south to Ben Nevis and the Ardnamurchan Peninsula in the north, from Dundee and Edinburgh in the east to western Scotland’s many islands and Northern Ireland in the west – extending to 200 nautical miles west out into the Atlantic from the coast of Northern Ireland. All in all a coverage of 98,000 square miles, including Scotland and England’s highest peaks, as well as some of the UK’s most treacherous coastal waters.

In recent years, personnel from HMS Gannet have been decorated with operational honours for their part in some notable rescues, including the rescue of three climbers in a blizzard from the notorious Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis in May 2007, the rescue of six crew from the stricken MV Riverdance ferry in Blackpool in January 2008, the rescue of a climber from an avalanche in Buachaille Etive Mor in Glencoe in January 2009 and, most recently, rescuing a climber with an ankle injury from Argyll’s Beinn Sgulaird in November 2011. Three of the four rescues above were carried out under cover of pitch darkness and all were in the grip of horrendous weather.

RNAS Lossiemouth, better known now as RAF Lossiemouth, operated the Westland Dragonfly and Whirlwind from 1953 to 1973, while HMS Gannet, as first 819 Naval Air Squadron and later Gannet SAR Flight, has used variations of the familiar Sea King since 1981, which still patrols our skies today. HMS Gannet is the only unit to have operated search and rescue from two locations – HMS Gannet was previously based at RNAS Eglinton in Northern Ireland until the base closed in 1959.

RNAS Anthorn in Cumbria operated the Westland Dragonfly from 1953 to 1956.
Press Release, August 21, 2013; Image: Royal Navy