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Former members of 771 NAS welcomed back one of their own to RN

Published: 29 Apr 2024
Former members of the Royal Navy search and rescue squadron 771 welcomed back one of their own to RNAS Culdrose this week.
Visiting the Helston air station was David ‘Nick’ Carter, who served as a chief petty officer aircrewman and search and rescue (SAR) diver during the 1970s and early 80s.
The 85-year-old, who lives in Hayle, is a Falkland’s War veteran and took part in countless rescues off the coast of Cornwall, including the 1979 Fastnet Race disaster – the UK’s largestever peacetime rescue operation.
He was greeted by some of the Royal Navy aircrew, including aircrewmen and a former SAR diver, who also served on 771 Naval Air Squadron, which was only disbanded in 2016. They are now with Merlin Helicopter Force, which still covers military SAR although civilian responsibility is now with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
Over a cup of tea in the Wardroom SAR Bar (dedicated to all things 771) and accompanied by his sons Stuart and Paul, Mr Carter was able to leaf through an archive of photographs and share tales of the arduous and demanding SAR roles, where Royal Navy helicopters crews saved innumerable lives – often pitted against appalling conditions at sea.
He said he joined the Royal Navy as a teenager in 1956 and transferred into the Fleet Air Arm in 1971. He arrived at RNAS Culdrose in 1972 and trained as an aircrewman with Whirlwind and then Wessex helicopters.
In those days, he said, SAR operations were only carried out during daylight hours. He described how the aircrew used to wait in small room for a ‘job’ (an emergency call). One perk of the duty crew, he added, was being brought a free lunch.
His job was not without its difficult moments and he recalled recovering dead bodies from the sea. At the same time, it was shaped by that quiet professionalism typical of the navy – and not without moments of dark humour too.
Mr Carter added that he was genuinely terrified when, during a training exercise, he jumped into the sea from a helicopter to discover he was in the water amid circling basking sharks. He said the instructor later told him unconvincingly that he had not seen the (harmless) creatures.
His visit concluded with a visit to the station’s Fastnet Race Disaster memorial and watching some of today’s Merlin helicopters heading off on deployment and training sorties.
Mr Carter thanked all those involved, adding: “It’s brought back a lot of memories. Culdrose seems to have changed completely.”
A spokesman for RNAS Culdrose said: “We were delighted to host Mr Carter and his sons and were pleased they enjoyed their visit. Search and rescue is still proudly remembered by the Royal Navy, especially by those serving personnel that performed the same demanding role. Their goodwill to Mr Carter was evident and his many years’ of service mean he will always remain a part of the naval family.”


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