END OF SAR GALA DINNER
Heroes and Legends from the Royal Navy’s Search and Rescue world gathered for a final time at a celebratory Gala Dinner held at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose.
The Dinner was attended by past and present members who have served on SAR helicopter Squadrons and Naval Air Stations across the country that had provided the frontline civilian SAR commitment from the Royal Navy. Many festooned with bravery and gallantry medals that reflected a history stretching back 62 years to the very first rescue call. That mission was in January 1953, when 12 Dragonfly helicopters from 705 Naval Air Squadron based at RNAS Gosport were tasked to assist in rescue efforts following severe flooding. In all they rescued more than 840 people inEast AngliaandHolland, and ironically the very last rescue mission - carried out by Gannet SAR – saw them rescuing stranded bus passengers from floods, in Ayrshire in December 2015.
Among the guests of honour and VIP attending was Rear Admiral Keith Blount OBE, head of the Fleet Air Arm and former 771 NAS SAR pilot who said, “This unique gathering of people spans many of the years of the RN SAR commitment. No other Force has been awarded as many awards and decorations, all of you should feel extremely proud of your achievements."
Many met up with friends and former colleagues they had not seen for years. But despite the years they spent the evening retelling tales of heroic rescues and the times they got airborne in atrocious weather conditions. Another VIP guest at the dinner, Pop Star Simon Le Bon also had a special reason to thank his rescuer personally. He was spectacularly rescued by a SAR Wessex from 771 NAS in 1985.
His ocean-going super yacht ‘Drum’ had capsized during the ‘Fastnet Race’ in the English Channel. Simon Le Bon along with several other crew members were trapped under the boat. Petty Officer Larry Slater the SAR Diver on the Wessexdived under the hull to lead the trapped crew to safety. The rescue earned Larry a George Medal and TV fame when he starred in his own ‘This is your Life’ programme.
Vice Admiral Paul Bossier, Chief Executive of the Royal National Lifeboat Institute took the opportunity to present a RNLI Vellum to the Royal Navy for its significant contribution to life saving around theBritish Isles.
Retired Aircrewman Warrant Officer Rab Butler summed up the evening in his own words; “The evening went extremely well with some prominent people praising the virtues of us all. This event will never be repeated, I’m glad I was there.”