Joint RAF

Its been quite a while since we last had a Sea King Search and Rescue helicopter working with the team on the local moorlands, indeed the last time was in very tragic circumstances when in February 2000 a Robinson helicopter crashed on Heapey Moor with three fatalities and a Sea King from RAF 22 Sqn, RAF Valley attended.

With regards to actually training with the RAF SAR helicopter force, its been a very long time since we hosted a Sea King in the teams area, so our Training Officer got talking to ’E’ Flight, 202 Sqn., RAF SAR based at RAF Leconfield and they agreed to come and join us.

Fred quickly enlisted the help of team member Andrew Ryding to assist with the considerable amount of planning and a date of Saturday 27th May was fixed.
Come the day and with anxious fingers crossed 23 team members awaited the sound of an approaching Sea King, on its long journey from its base at RAF Leconfield, near Beverley, Humberside. The news it was on its way was quickly tempered by the sad news it was being diverted to the Fylde coast to deal with a serious incident at sea.

Team members get a safety brief around SK 128.

With the incident concluded the crew kindly agreed to carry on with our exercise, and landed at the Lever Park LZ alongside the road to Rivington Hall Barn.

GMP ASU India 99 lands next to SK128.

Here the Sea King crew were joined by the Greater Manchester Police Air Support Unit helicopter which had also agreed to join the exercise, with participation promised by the Lancashire Constabulary Air Support Unit helicopter being cancelled when their aircraft became unavailable at the last minute.
Walk arounds of both aircraft and very necessary safety briefings then followed, with team members then being flown out to various local locations by the Sea King and winched down or landed on, with two young Scouts who had volunteered to be ’exercise casualties’ getting the trip of a lifetime with an evacuation flight in the Sea King.

2 Team members get winched into SK128.

Hazel Gannaway, our local United Utiliies Ranger who had done much to secure permissions for the exercise to take place on United Utilities land was also rewarded for her tremendous help to the team with a flight. All in 3x team members managed a familiarisation flight, with a further 15x team members all getting a flight and being winched down.

SK128 lowers a Bell MRT stretcher to waiting troops.

For most team members present this was their first time working with and flying in a RAF SAR Sea King, and the huge difference in size and particularly the downdraft when compared to the more famliar NWAA Helimed 08 aircraft was immediately apparent to all taking part.
Just as regular team exercise casualty Chris Rickson (a work colleague of our Team Leader) was about to be ’rescued’ by the Sea King, (he had been looking forward to it for months) the Sea King had to make a rapid departure to deal with another geniune emergency, this time in Barrow, and so the exercise concluded with team members and some exercise casualties having to walk back to Control rather than be flown back!

The two Scouts – exercise casualties for the day – make their way on board SK128 for transport from Wimberry Hill back to Lever Park

Hovering above Lever Park

Overall the days exercise was judged a huge success and a great credit to the organisational skills of our Training Officer Fred Taylor and team member Andrew Ryding.
Of course full thanks are expressed to the duty aircrew from ’E’ Flight, 202 Sqn., RAF Leconfield, (and the support personnel back at their base) and the Greater Manchester Police Air Support Unit helicopter from Barton Airport.
Thanks are also due to United Utilities for allowing us permission to exercise on their land, and their Ranger Hazel Gannaway for her excellent liaison role, to the many residents of the area around the Control / Landing Zone who had to put up with the noise of two helicopters nearby, to Kevin Salmon of Salmons (Caterers) Limited, owners of Rivington Hall Barn who offered us every co operation, to the manager of the nearby hill top Winter Hill Transmitter installation, and to the following tenant farmers who as ever so freely and readily allowed us to exercise on their moorland grazing land without any hinderence or problem at all; Mr J. Needham of Higher Knoll Farm, Rivington and Mr J. Fisher of Moses Cocker Farm, Rivington.

Now then Fred and Andrew, so as not to rest on your laurals, how about getting a night vision goggle / nightime exercise sorted out with ’E’ flight 202 Sqn., now theres something to get you both thinking about !