If you spend time outdoors, it’s entirely likely that you’ve seen and heard the Sea Kings going about their business; over the years, they’ve provided sterling service in support of Mountain Rescue teams across Scotland, flying an airframe first deployed in the early 60s in all conditions to deploy search teams and transport casualties quickly and efficiently, saving goodness knows how many lives in the process. It’s all the more impressive when you consider that their efforts on that front were secondary to their main role of rescuing downed military aircrew, something that was often overlooked when complaints were raised about “the cost of rescuing climbers”.
All that is changing now, with the RAF/RN search and rescue services across the UK being replaced with a civilian service run by Bristows. Time will tell whether the new service will be the equal of the one it’s replacing; in the S-92, they’re equipped with a new, more powerful aircraft with some pretty sophisticated technology at their disposal, and many of the same aircrew will be on board, so there is reason for optimism.
Thankfully, I’ve never had to avail myself of the services of the Sea Kings, so my experience with them is limited to training sessions with Lomond MRT since I joined them a couple of years ago. Our local SAR base is HMS Gannet in Ayrshire, which is due to hand over to Bristows in early 2016. We had our last ever formal training day with them last Sunday; an emotional day for many of our more experienced team members who have been working with ‘Rescue 177’ for two or three decades. Coming straight after our induction day on the new S-92 a couple of weeks ago, the differences in power and sophistication were very obvious; the downdraft under the main rotor of the S-92 is so powerful that it takes considerable effort to stay upright, whereas the Sea King seemed quite innocuous in comparison. However, that contrast serves only to increase the sense of respect for the ability of the Sea King crews to make the most of their ‘vintage’ kit.
I managed to get one or two video clips over the course of the day, which I’ve edited together as a rather shaky, wholly inadequate homage to their efforts over the years on our behalf, watching our backs as we’ve had our fun in the hills. Wouldn’t it be great if someone could bring together a documentary that captured their contribution more completely – it’s definitely a story worth telling!