CULDROSE LIFESAVERS HANDOVER SAR BATON… AND ACE OF CLUBS BADGE
Having carried out over 40 years of rescue operations from RNAS Culdrose, conducting over 9000 jobs and saving over 15000 lives, 771 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) today finished its UK search and rescue (SAR) tasking.
At 0900 on 1st January 2016, the squadron was officially ‘stood down’ from its SAR responsibilities and the baton passed on to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency contractor Bristow Helicopters, who will be based at Newquay airport. When the call came through from Kinloss Rescue, the tasking organisation thanked 771 Squadron and sister unit Gannet SAR Flight for their efforts and said “…BZ (well done in Navy language!) to the Fleet Air Arm”.
Since 1974, 771 Squadron has delivered search and rescue coverage across the Southwest 24 hours a day. At the handover this morning, the Commanding Officer of 771 Naval Air Squadron, Lieutenant Commander Dick Calhaem said: “I am immensely proud to command this outstanding squadron on this the final day of search and rescue operations. 771 Naval Air Squadron has made a huge impact during the past 40 years and the personnel, and their famous ‘Ace of Clubs’ helicopters will always have a place in the hearts of the population of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. The squadron will never be forgotten for its efforts and the innumerable lives saved. In the words of the 771 Naval Air Squadron motto ‘Non Noblus Solum – Not Unto us Alone’ - be proud and pleased for a job, extremely well done!”
To ensure a smooth handover, 771 personnel have been liaising with the new Bristow Helicopter team at Newquay, many of whom have been based on 771 themselves. Such are the strong ties, that 771 handed over the squadron’s much loved ‘Ace of Clubs’ badge. Lieutenant Commander Calhaem said: “A lot of the new Bristow team are ex-771 and we know them well, so it was a pleasure to hand over the Squadron badge – the Ace of Clubs - today. We hope that the emblem brings them luck and helps them on their life saving missions.”
It was business as usual right up until the end of their 24 hour watch for the final duty crew. The four man team consisted of Commanding Officer Lt Cdr Richard Calhaem, Lt Cdr Andrew 'Tank' Murray, Lt Jonathan 'Stretch' Hounsome and WO Andy Penrose. The experienced team have many flying hours between them; indeed three of them have carried out almost 400 rescues each. With a cabinet full of honours and awards, the four individuals have taken part in some major rescues including the Spanish Trawler Presca Verdes Tres in 2008, Boscastle in 2004, FV Le Sillon in 2014 and the Panamera in 2013.
Warrant Officer Andy Penrose, the winchman on the final crew and one of the longest serving members of the squadron said: “It has been the most rewarding and satisfying job I could ever have hoped to fulfil - I have been privileged to serve at 771 in every rank from Leading Hand to Warrant Officer. I am filled with sadness that my 771 days are all but finished, however, I have treasured memories of a job well done. However, I have every faith in my Bristow colleagues at Newquay, most of whom I know as previous 771 Squadron personnel.”
Mark Coupland, Bristow Helicopter’s Chief Pilot at Newquay was pleased to accept the Ace of Clubs badge, he said: “We are keen to acknowledge the past and where a lot of the new Coastguard team have come from. Many of the Newquay team have been trained by the Royal Navy and we are massively proud of the lives that 771 has saved over the years.”
771 Naval Air Squadron has been ‘on call’ 24 hours a day, every day of the year since 1974, saving many lives in some of the most hazardous conditions imaginable, often putting their own lives at risk. At 15 minutes notice by day and 45 minutes by night, the Squadron provided a lifesaving service within a 200 nautical mile radius of RNAS Culdrose. They have carried out over 200 rescues every year, ranging from plucking sailors from sinking ships, to airlifting casualties of road traffic accidents to hospital and assisting the police in carrying out aerial searches for missing people.
Their assistance to mariners in distress has gained them numerous awards and bravery medals, for rescues including the Fastnet race of 1979, the Boscastle Floods of 2004, the MSC Napoli in January 2007 and more recently aiding the crews of the stricken ‘Panamera’ and ‘La Sillon’.
Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose will continue to train crews in search and rescue as it is an essential skill for aviation at sea. The future for the Air Station remains bright. As a ‘Core Base’ for Defence, RNAS Culdrose will continue to provide aviators and helicopters for front line operations within the Royal Navy. It also has a vital training role.