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12 days of Christmas and 17 missions

Published: 08 Jan 2014

Cornwall’s Royal Navy Search and Rescue based at RNAS Culdrose have had one of their busiest Festive periods in recent years.

THE foul weather which lashed Britain almost non-stop over the festive period led to the Royal Navy’s Search and Rescue helicopters being scrambled well over a dozen times. Rescue 193, the duty Sea King of 771 Naval Air Squadron at Culdrose, lifted off the tarmac 17 times between Christmas Eve and January 6, helping nine people in the process - fishermen, stranded walkers and medical cases.

Nine people have been assisted by the 771 rescuers – with the final days of Christmas/first days of 2014 proving to be particularly challenging thanks to the battering the West Country has taken in a succession of winter storms.

A French fisherman was winched off the ‘Mon Briez’ south of Fowey on January 6 in conditions described by the squadron’s Lieutenant Commander Andy Watts RN, 771 Observer, said:  “This was a rescue at the limits of the aircraft and crew”.

The casualty was safely taken to hospital in Truro, while the previous day a burns victim had to be flown from Perranuthnoe, near Penzance, to Bristol. It took the Sea King three hours to return to base – normal flying time would be about an hour – as it battled 50kt headwinds and had to stop at Chivenor in north Devon to refuel.

That same day, January 5, a Spanish fisherman was safely lifted off his boat – despite a Sea State 7 which made for an extremely tricky winch – 150 miles off the Isles of Scilly.

As well as these successful missions, the Culdrose fliers had to abandon some sorties because of the weather, while the Sea King was called upon to help with the search for Guildford man Harry Swordy who went into the sea at Loe Bar in the small hours of New Year’s Day, and teenager Harry Martin, who vanished while photographing the effect of the storms in the Wembury area, just south of Plymouth, on 3rd January.

Despite an extensive search, no trace of Mr Martin has yet been found, but sadly Mr Swordy’s body was subsequently washed ashore.

Commander Andy Rose RN, Commander Sea King Force said: “The rescue efforts put in by all the SAR assets over this period has been immense; 771 NAS were involved in a very difficult rescue effort in extreme conditions 200 miles SW of the Isles of Scilly on Christmas Eve that eventually saw a Merchant Vessel get the stricken sailors to safety; out of 10 for the endeavours I’d score them 11.

Pictures show 771NAS SAR Sea King and RNLI from Falmouth operating on the Cornish coast, these were taken during a recent exercise testing procedures that were employed over the Christmas and New Year period.


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