Incredible stories of Sea King rescues

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In nearly half a century of Royal Navy operations the Sea King has been involved in thousands of vital search and rescue missions, and the new Haynes Westland SAR Sea King Manual brings a selection of those true stories together for the first time.

The Navy provides SAR from two locations, RNAS Culdrose, Cornwall and HMS Gannet in Scotland; where the dedication and passion of the crews have led to countless tales of heroism, which have defied near impossible conditions and pushed the Sea King and its crew to their limits.

One such story occurred during the Boscastle floods in August 2004. It appeared to be a fair day when the team at RNAS Culdrose received word of a car caught in water around the Boscastle area. On arrival, the blue sky turned to dark clouds and the rain pelted down, making visibility poor and controlling the Sea King a challenging task, especially after the heavy rain caused the electrics onboard to malfunction and forced the team to rely only on hand signals to communicate.

When they arrived at the village the scene was more dramatic than they had ever anticipated. They immediately found a family of four who had broken through the roof of their house to escape the flooding and quickly hoisted them to safety. They then spotted a small building taking the full brunt of the force, which had a number of small children and adults on the roof crying out to be saved. Lt Cdr Martin ‘Florry’ Ford picks up the story:

”One at a time, we winched a number of very young children up to the aircraft. Once they were on board, we quickly moved them forward and handed them to the family we had already rescued. Then Bob (WO Bob Yeomans (Aircrewman)) was again lowered down to the roof, this time using a Hi-Line. After clearing several adults from the top of the roof, he slid down the tiles into an open window to assist several others sheltering inside.

“After what seemed like an age, Bob emerged and both he and the final casualty were plucked from the roof, just in time. Seconds after Bob had re-entered the aircraft, we watched in horror as a large tree hit the building, causing it to collapse into the deluge.”

75 cars, five caravans, six buildings and several boats were washed into the sea, approximately 100 homes and businesses were destroyed, trees were uprooted and debris were scattered over a large area.

In an operation lasting from mid-afternoon until 2:30 AM, a fleet of 7 Westland Sea King helicopters rescued about 150 people clinging to trees and the roofs of buildings and cars. No major injuries or loss of life were reported.

Although most of the Sea King’s operations focus on saving lives, occasionally something out of the ordinary can happen, like the remarkable birth of Marcus McLachlan. The team at RNAS Culdrose was in the middle of a normal day when the job phone rang, requesting a pregnancy medical transfer, as the fog rolled in and visibility worsened the team collected a midwife and the expectant mother and father to be.

However due to the bad weather the Sea King was forced to slow its pace, as Flt Lt Jon Owen explains: “With about five minutes left to run to the landing site, I was about to brief the Observer and Aircrewman in the cabin that we were shortly to land.

“But just as I turned around, I saw the midwife looking rather animated.

“We’re going to have a baby”, she cried. Both Paul and I turned to look at each other for a few seconds before firmly fixing eyes ahead! Just as we were entering the narrow part of the river, I could hear the unmistakable sound of a baby crying over the intercom.

“It did occur to me at that point what the Place of Birth would be on the baby’s Birth Certificate: Two miles south-east of Truro, 150ft up in the air, aboard Sea King XV705 would be a bit of a mouthful.”

Assisted by midwife Sue Merritt, baby Marcus Daniel McLachlan was born at 19:24 aboard Sea King XV705, call sign Rescue 193, to proud parents Ella and Barney.

The Westland SAR Sea King has been that most welcome of sights around the English south-west peninsula and the Scottish Highlands, providing essential Search and Rescue (SAR) capabilities for those in peril both on land and at sea and saving hundreds of lives.

The Haynes Westland SAR Sea King Manual includes information on the story of the helicopter, its anatomy, as well as offering unique insight into the Pilot’s view , the Crew’s view, the Engineers view and a set of detailed appendices listing RN and RAF Sea King SAR units and locations, bravery awards to Sea King crews, Sea King technical specs, and a glossary.