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Seeking the Sea King in Germany

Magda Mous, Four Aces Aviation Photography was at the SAR Meet 2005 at Kiel-Holtenau, Germany, celebrating thirty years of the Sea King in German Naval service. Photography by Paul Mali, Four Aces Aviation Photography

On 25 June 2005, the German Naval Air Station at Kiel-Holtenau organised its fifth SAR-Meet, coinciding with the 'Kiel-week'. An interesting event for several reasons, as it celebrated the Sea King's thirtieth anniversary of service with the German Navy. Additionally, rumour has it that the Naval Air Station at Kiel-Holtenau will be closed in 2006, with the Sea Kings of MFG 5 moving to Nordholz. In other words, this may have been the last SAR Meet at Kiel! The SAR Meet also coincides with the naval and sailing event of the 'Kiel week', ensuring an appropriate scenery and giving visitors an extra impulse to visit Kiel.


Since Germany joined the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) in 1962, its Navy is obliged to have a aerial SAR (Search and Rescue) fleet. Initially, Germany only operated Bristol Sycamore and Sikorsky H-34 helicopters, both of them not adequately equipped for a rescue task. So in 1965 the German government decided to purchase new helicopters, favouring the Bell UH-1D for the Navy, as the German Army and Air Force were considering purchase of the Huey as well. The Navy department was clearly against that, as the UH-1D in their view had several disadvantages - it was not capable of performing night operations, it lacked range and it was considered too small. The Navy required higher speed, a longer flight duration, and an all-weather capability for its helicopter. After four years the Navy finally got what it wanted - in 1969 the Navy and Government agreed and an order was placed for twenty-two Sea King MK 41 helicopters with the British Westland company, worth approximately GBP 70 million.

Even before the first helicopters were handed over to Germany, German Sea Kings performed two spectacular rescue operations in the UK. On 16 January 1974, near the coast of Plymouth, a British Sea King helicopter together with two German Sea Kings (89+51 and 89+55) saved eleven men in a severe storm from the Danish freight vessel 'Merc Enterprise'. Just four weeks later the same three helicopters rescued twenty-eight men from the freight ship 'Lutria'. The ship's crew had to abandon their ship and were already in lifeboats, on a sea with waves thirty to fifty feet high - despite these terrible weather conditions, the ship's entire crew was saved.

The first four Sea Kings were officially handed over to the German Navy in March 1974. Within a year, the remaining eighteen aircraft had been delivered. On 1 April 1975 the German Navy had twenty-two Sea Kings operational. And, thirty years later, this is considered a reason to celebrate!

The Sea King MK41 has proven to be a more than adequate aircraft, well-equipped for its purpose. An interesting fact was that Sea King 89+55, which took part in those first rescue operations in 1974, was the star of the 2005 SAR meet. It had been decorated with a special anniversary paint scheme on the fuselageand nose - on the fuselage, an eagle was depicted spreading its wings, with the Kieler and German flag at the tips of the wings. On the nose of the aircraft the head of an Eagle (MFG 5's symbol) is depicted with its eyes positioned on the helicopter's two front landing lights.

The SAR-meet is held biannually, and its main goal is to gather rescue crews from all over the world and exchange experiences about their daily work, rescuing lives at sea. Besides German Sea Kings, there were some other interesting aircraft on display - the German Air Force was represented by an AS532 Cougar and UH-1D Huey, while the German Navy also sent a Mk88A Sea Lynx. A prototype of the NH 90 was on static display, which is supposed to replace the Sea King in the future. The Royal Netherlands Navy participated with a Lynx. Rare and unusual birds were a Lithuanian Air Force Mil Mi-8T and a Polish Air Force Sokol W3, both wearing 'Search and Rescue' paint schemes.

During the demonstrations, visitors could see a simulated rescue operation. 'Victims' first jumped out of the Sea King into the water and were then rescued with different types of rescue equipment, including a hoist and a cage. Finally, all 'drowning' men were handed over safely to a nearby SAR vessel. It was an impressive sight to see how the combination of vessel and aircraft make powerful rescuers at sea!

And all this took place against beautiful scenery - the 'Kiel week' always attracts hundreds of beautiful ships, both modern and old, sailing and motor, big and small. Many of these vessels surrounded the Naval Air Station of Kiel during the SAR MEET, which creates a very attractive background.


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