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Picture: LA(Phot) James Crawford, FRPU West
Gannet leap
400 hurdle
THE busiest just got busier.
The Search and Rescue teams of HMS
Gannet – already the UK’s most in-demand
SAR unit – broke the 400 call-out barrier with
a month of 2009 still to run.
The Prestwick-based unit was called
out on 359 occasions in 2007. A record.
That rose to 382 in 2008, with 347 people
rescued. Another record.
Scramble number 400 for the Sea King
Mk5 was a relatively-routine transfer of a
patient from the Isle of Arran to the mainland
for treatment.
Scramble number 399 was rather more demanding.
A driver had lost control of his Renault and impaled it on a dry
stone wall near Wigtown in Dumfries and Galloway.
Firefi ghters had managed to cut the male driver free from the
wreckage of the Megane but he needed to be transferred to
hospital in Dumfries, 40 miles away, urgently.
Enter the Gannet boys. They covered the 50-ish miles from
their base to the crash site in a mere 18 minutes (a good
tail wind helped propel the Sea King along at 180mph; the
helicopter’s top speed normally is about 140mph).
“There’s always a little bit of an unknown when we embark a
seriously-injured person, but we always have fully-trained fi rst
aiders or paramedics aboard to minimise the risks associated
with injuries,” said fl ight commander Lt Cdr ‘Florry’ Ford.
In this instance, it was PO Taff Ashman, an ambulance-
service-trained paramedic who looked after the driver on the
20-minute fl ight to Dumfries hospital.
“That’s where a helicopter comes into its own and can make a
real difference,” Lt Cdr Ford added.
Gannet’s most high-profile recent activity came as a result of Flying the fl ag
the torrential rain which drenched western Scotland and North-
West England in November
While the media focus was very much on the flooding in
Cumbria where RAF SAR crews performed with aplomb – and
saved lives – Gannet’s on-call Sea King was heavily in demand
stiff December ● A youngster waves the Union Flag on the jetty as HMS Kent
as Nature’s wrath wrought devastation.
breeze, a White
emerges from the Solent murk after six months in the Gulf
A pensioner became trapped in her car at Coldstream in the Ensign fl ies from the
Picture: LA(Phot) Dave Jenkins, FRPU East
Scottish Borders when a deluge flooded a junction.
railings at Devil’s Point as
Fire and police rescuers were unable to get through the
loved ones welcome HMS
When Gannet’s Sea King arrived at the scene, its crew found
Cumberland home.
the 76-year-old woman clinging to a barbed wire fence thigh-
For more than six months the
deep in water.
Type 22 frigate conducted anti-
PO Marcus ‘Wiggy’ Wigfull was winched down, while the
piracy and counter-narcotics
pilots battled to maintain a stable position in 45 knots of wind.
patrols east of Suez.
“For me it was actually quite a straightforward rescue,”
The latter saw £43m of cannabis
explained Wiggy.
taken off the ‘Hashish Highway’
“It was the crew on the helicopter who had a tougher job, as
back in July. That was perhaps the
the wind was very strong. We were in a hover only 20 feet or so
most high-profi le moment of the
from power lines and it was extremely dark.”
deployment, which began back on
The motorist was lifted to safety and taken to Edinburgh
May 24, but it was not the only
Royal Infirmary.
That rescue was fourth and last of the night which saw the
On two occasions the frigate
helicopter pulled across northern England and Scotland.
drove off pirate attacks: one group
First up was a call to Keswick to help a man trapped in his
attacked a French tuna boat,
car; he was rescued before the Sea King arrived.
which led to the Mighty Sausage
Next came a search for a man feared to have been swept
destroying the brigands’ mother
away by a river near Falkirk.
ship; in the second incident, the
The Sea King crew spent around 90 minutes looking for the
Britons ensured a Yemeni vessel
man. The helicopter was never more than 50 metres from power
wasn’t threatened.
lines and buffeted by strong winds as the crew used night
“The deployment was
vision goggles attempting to maintain several prolonged hovers
successful, our very presence was
above the raging river.
an effective deterrent to the illegal
Low on fuel, the Gannet fliers were forced to break off the
activity at sea.” They could be the
search and refuel in Edinburgh; it later transpired the call-out
words of Cumberland’s CO – but
had been a hoax.
they’re actually from the mouth
Not a hoax, however, was scramble number three: a genuine
of Chef Daniel Ealey, eager to
missing person near Perth. He was found by emergency
trumpet the achievements of the
services on the ground while the Sea King was scouring the
Type 22 and his shipmates.
The 34-year-old found his
“It really was a busy night in arduous conditions with heavy
partner Iona Bimead and their
rain and gale to severe gale force winds,” said pilot and aircraft
children Lanaeya, three, and
commander Lt George ‘Logie’ Baird.
12-month-old Alexander er deplode yments in 18 months. of duty for the second half of 2009: and to bring them safely back
“But we did a good job and by the time we got back to base I
waiting. But this makes ChrBu istmas the northern Arabian Gulf. home to their friends and families.
definitely felt I had earned my cooked breakfast.”
“It’s wonderful to haaveve extra special,ext especially so With most eyes fi xed on “They have shown
Daniel home – he has s for the bof ys.” Afghanistan it’s easy to forget resourcefulness and fl exibility in
missed half of Alex’s life,” Cumberland clocked the substantial RN/RFA presence dealing with everything from daily
said Iona. “Lanaeya up more than 40,000 in the Gulf, the Senior Service’s patrols to a search and rescue
was also devastated miles while away, crucible of operations for most of operation that undoubtedly saved
when her daddy went visited three continents the past decade. a man’s life.”
away because she didn’t and was battered by Kent originally headed east of Normal working with Iraq
understand why he’d left the monsoons. Suez for the latest roulement of has now resumed as evidenced
for what she thought was She – and her battleship grey supporting by HMS Monmouth currently
forever. ship’sh s company – Operation Telic, taking patrolling the ABOT and KAAOT
“I had good contact while had come through all over from her fellow platforms which are responsible for
Daniel was away and they were with fl ying colours, said Portsmouth-based sister so much of the country’s income.
sometimes very quiet in the her Commanding Offi cer HMS Richmond. As Kent arrived in the Solent,
monsoon period and not much Capt David Dutton. Delays to the sign- so HMS York – Britain’s fastest
going on with pirates, but there “I must pay full ing of an agreement destroyer, be it Type 42 or
was plenty of excitement for them credit to my ship’s between London and 45 – departed, bound for the
in the end.” company for a job well Baghdad meant that Falklands.
She was one of more than done. They have been the original mission – The Type 42 is taking over from
600 friends and family who had thoroughly professional safeguarding Iraq’s oil her sister Gloucester in the South
gathered in Devonport to welcome and a tribute to the Royal platforms and working Atlantic, calling in at Gibraltar
Cumberland home on an icy, Navy,” he added. with the Iraqi navy – and the Cape Verde Islands
windy, and sometimes showery “It is fantastic to see our became a far more gen- on the way down, before
December day. families and friends on the jetty eral mission of working with a pre-Christmas break in
They were entertained by the in such huge numbers, there are Gulf region navies. the party capital of South
Band of HM Royal Marines until about 650 on the jetty – it was a And the passage out to America (aka Rio).
Cumberland hove into view and wonderful sight when we came and back from the Gulf Her ship’s company
the cheers and shouts of loved alongside the jetty. There was saw the ship supporting were at sea on
ones drowned out the music. a distinct buzz around the ship the international anti- December 25 (heading
“It was a successful deployment after Gibraltar when we were piracy mission in the for the Falklands) and
with some excitement with the on the fi nal stretch home. The troubled waters between on New Year’s Day (on
drugs bust and chasing and Plymouth welcome lived up to Yemen and Somalia. patrol around those
catching pirates,” said CPO Lee that anticipation.” It’s the second islands).
Beardsmore, who was greeted by It was a rather less-than- demanding deployment east She’ll remain in the
his wife Yvonne and sons Harry, pleasant day (as the photograph of Suez in the past 18 months Falklands-South Georgia area
Edward and David. above shows) in Portsmouth as for Kent. CO Cdr Simon Hopper until April before beginning the
Yvonne added: “I have had HMS Kent returned home from said yet again his men and women long haul home via the west coast
e-mails every day from Lee, but it six months away. had risen to the challenge. of Africa. At present, visits are
is obviously amazing to have him Certainly it was far colder and “I am honoured to have planned to Angola, Ghana and
back. He’s been away twice on damper than the Type 23’s theatre commanded such a capable team Sierra Leone.
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