846NAS Sea King Carries Olympic Flame to The Tower of London
Like a high-octane scene from a James Bond movie, two Royal Navy helicopters carrying elite Royal Marines swooped in on central London on Friday July 20. Their formidable, dark silhouettes hung almost ominously in the July sky; their target? – none other than the imposing fortress of the Tower of London. Their mission? A burning one – the delivery of the Olympic Flame for its first entry into the host city; a truly momentous occasion.
Completed? And how! The two Commando Helicopter Force Sea King Mark 4 aircraft from 845 and 846 Naval Air Squadrons based at Yeovilton in Somerset were involved in the cloak and dagger operation to bring the Flame safely to the capital, allowing it to burn brightly for the final legs of the Torch Relay. The first 9.5 tonne helicopter was manoeuvred into a dramatic 60ft low hover above Tower Wharf, allowing four Royal Marines Commandos to fast rope from the cargo door to the ground. These four marines from the Commando Training Centre in Lympstone, Devon marked the area for the second Sea King from 846 NAS which came into a hover at 180ft just moments later to allow Marine Martyn Williams to abseil down to the wharf with the Flame strapped securely to his chest in its lantern. He then handed the precious cargo on to Dame Kelly Holmes, Olympian extraordinaire and the first Torchbearer in London.
Thrilling the assembled spectators, it was a daring and spell-binding demonstration of just some of the vital skills which both Naval aircrew and Commandos employ in daily frontline operations. “I am honoured and thrilled to have been able to do this – what a buzz,” explained 23-year-old Martyn from Ipswich. “I just had to make sure it was absolutely bang on and luckily it was.
“It’s hard enough when you are doing this in training, and even more so in theatre, but to know that I had custody of such an important load, as well as the fact that we were being filmed and photographed from all angles by the media and watched by millions adds in a whole different dimension to it all – it was a bit nerve-wracking. “I’m still very humbled that I was selected for this – I have overcome an injury sustained in Afghanistan, but so too have many others, and others still have paid the ultimate price. Only one person was able to carry the Flame – I’m lucky it was me. But I looked at it as a chance to quite literally hold a torch for all my fellow servicemen and women. “And to be able to then hand the Flame on to Dame Kelly Holmes, a superb Olympian, was amazing.”
Martyn served in Afghanistan with 45 Commando in 2008 and was unfortunate to be involved in a road mine attack, which left him with a leg injury. Now fully recovered, he will deploy to the region again in 2013. He was subsequently awarded the Operational Service Medal (Afghanistan) and International Security Assistance Force Medal. A nail-biting moment for Lieutenant Commander Jake Wilkinson, Commanding Officer of the Commando Mobile Air Operations Team, Commando Helicopter Force, the drop was the culmination of months of meticulous planning and training.
“This is a never-to-be-repeated experience which all members of the Royal Navy’s Commando Helicopter Force and the Royal Marines Commandos are justifiably proud to have been part of,” said Jake. “My teams have performed impeccably under an enormous amount of scrutiny, demonstrating to gathered crowds and media just some of the roles we undertake for real on the frontline and how we remain cool, calm and collected in the face of immense pressure to get the job done.
“Having the iconic landmarks of the Tower of London and Tower Bridge as a backdrop is sensational – but, without doubt, the biggest responsibility was being tasked with the safe delivery of the Olympic Flame and I’m delighted to say my team and the Royal Marines excelled in this duty! We couldn’t be more delighted.”
Two Torchbearers – Dame Kelly Holmes and Abul Kasam – carried the Flame around the Tower of London to be welcomed by Mayor of London Boris Johnson and Lutfur Rahman, Mayor of Tower Hamlets and invited guests. At the Jewel House, eight State Trumpeters from the Band of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment played a dramatic fanfare before the Flame was handed to General the Lord Dannatt, Constable of the Tower of London, where it remained overnight for safe keeping.
Images Crown copyright
Final group image
Captain Matthew Briers Royal Navy CO CHF (extreme left) and Lt Cdr Jake Wilkinson RN (extreme Right CHF planning officer for the event) with the crew of ZA298 that delivered the Olympic Flame. Mne Williams is centre.