Drug-busting Wings of the Dragon return to Yeovilton
There were balloons, homemade placards, Union Jacks and smiles waiting for the fliers who helped the Royal Navy bag its biggest collective drugs haul in the Middle East.
The air and ground crew of 212 Flight from HMS Dragon flew into Yeovilton to be reunited with loved ones after a record-breaking seven-month stint supporting the destroyer’s mission east of Suez.
Dragon scored eight drugs busts – a record number for the Royal Navy, with a record haul of hash, heroin and crystal meth worth an estimated £145m and weighing 18,250kg (three times the weight of a fully-loaded Wildcat).
I would also like to offer my thanks to the families who have been both patient and resilient, their support means so much to our sailors when deployed for such long periods of time.Commander Jamieson Stride RN
The Wildcat was involved in seven of Dragon’s eight busts – conducting missions which included:
· locating suspicious dhows – the most prevalent vessel in this part of the world – across an area 26 times the size of the UK;
· tracking their movements without the drug runners being aware;
· providing ‘overwatch’ armed with Royal Marines snipers covering the actions of commando and Royal Navy boarding parties securing and searching the dhows.
In all the Flight clocked up 200 flying hours while away – not just drugs busting, but also supporting numerous exercises Dragon took part in: Konkan with the Indian Navy, Aman with the Pakistanis, and Saif Sareea 3 (the largest Anglo-Omani joint training in nearly two decades).
And while the destroyer was deployed to the region at the cooler time of year, temperatures were still in the mid-30s Celsius when she arrived in theatre… and mid-20s by the time she left, making for sticky, sweaty conditions at times for the small team of engineers and technicians painstakingly maintaining the state-of-the-art helicopter.
The Wildcat flew back to its home with 815 Naval Air Squadron a day ahead of Dragon herself; the destroyer is expecting upwards of 1,000 friends and family members waiting for her in Portsmouth.
There wasn’t quite that number in Yeovilton, but what they lacked in numbers they made up with passion.
Commanding Officer 815 NAS Commander Jamieson Stride said the Flight had been “instrumental in seven of Dragon’s’ eight drugs busts.
“I would also like to offer my thanks to the families who have been both patient and resilient, their support means so much to our sailors when deployed for such long periods of time.”