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Life savers

Howard Heeley/Down To Earth Promotions was on hand as 771 Naval Air Squadron undertook practice rescues at Land's End

On Thursday 2 August, the day after the Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Culdrose Air Day, its hectic schedule saw 771 Naval Air Squadron due to participate in several rescue demonstrations at the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) Air Sea Rescue Day at the Land's End Visitor Centre, Cornwall.

The demonstration was delayed by some two hours due to an actual mission, during which 771 Squadron participated in the search for two divers who had been lost on the sunken wreck of HMS Scylla, in Whitesands Bay off the Devon and Cornwall coast. Sadly the bodies of the two divers were recovered from inside the wreck in the early afternoon.

The delayed 771 Squadron demonstration commenced when Sea King XV670 '17' finally arrived at Land's End at just after 16:00. The first rescue demonstrated involved the crew of the Sea King helicopter working in conjunction with the Land's End HM Coastguard Search & Rescue Team to airlift a simulated casualty from the cliff top. Working within the gusty confines of the rocky cliff top location the precise operation drew gasps of amazement from the assembled members of the public.

On call

The second rescue involved winching casualties from the waters off Land's End and this involved working with members of the Sennen Cove Lifeboat. Originally the casualties were to have been winched from the deck of the sea going Sennen Cove lifeboat but because of the delay caused by the live Scylla rescue, the display featured a rescue of RNLI crew members put into the sea from the inshore lifeboat. Again the precise hovers, despatch of the diver from the Sea Kings and the subsequent winching operation drew admiring applause from the spectators gathered along the cliff top.

After the demonstrations were complete the Sea King made a high-speed pass and combat-style approach before landing in the Visitor Centre car park. Here the helicopter and crew were engulfed by spectators who had witnessed the demonstrations.

771 Naval Air Squadron is on call twenty-four-seven every day of the year and its light grey and day-glo painted Sea Kings are a familiar sight over the West Country. The squadron has nine Sea King helicopters on strength and over two hundred personnel - their primary role is to provide military and civilian SAR cover operating at up to two hundred nautical miles out of RNAS Culdrose. Typical operational readiness is fifteen minutes notice in daytime and forty-five minutes notice at night.

Typically a Sea King Search and Rescue (SAR) crew comprises of two pilots, an observer and an aircrew man. All crew have some medical training and they also work closely with the South West Ambulance Service Trust and can increase their medical capability by carrying paramedics from the Trust. As demonstrated during the Land's End Air Sea Rescue Day 771 Squadron also regularly work with the RNLI, HM Coastguard Search & Rescue Teams and other emergency services.

The operational role varies from long-range maritime rescues, to rescuing swimmers, surfers and cliff walkers from the rugged coastlines around South West England. A civilian casualty evacuation role sees them attending local road accidents, transferring patients between hospitals and also participating in aerial searches in conjunction with the local police.

Within the operations at RNAS Culdrose 771 Squadron also undertakes an important training role of Royal Navy and Royal Marine Sea King crews. This training can include winch operation training, load lifting and confined space operational training. During 2007 the squadron was also undertook deployed operations for the first time.

The squadron is regularly in the news and on television, often with high profile and dangerous missions like those encountered during the Boscastle Floods in August 2004. On 18 January 771 Squadron participated in one of its biggest rescue operations in recent years, involving two of its Sea King helicopters, helping to save twenty-six sailors from the container ship the MSC Napoli, which sank off the Cornish coast in seventy-knot winds and a very high sea state.

The following statement from the 2007 RNAS Air Day programme best sums up the activities of 771 Squadron: "Every year 771 saves many lives in some of the most hazardous maritime conditions imaginable. The crew regularly put their own lives at risk in order to save others and have received many awards for their bravery and exceptional skill."


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