Team members take part in MPSRO SAR-H training at Humberside International Airport

Some readers may be aware that this year, April 1st to be precise, sees the start of the disbandment and wind down of the RAF, Royal Navy / Fleet Air Arm / HMCG existing UK Helicopter Search and Rescue provision, and its total civilianisation under a new long lasting contract, organised by HM Government, under Bristow Helicopters, operated and co ordinated by HM Coastguard.

Brand new sate of the art latest generation SAR helicopters, some new location arrangements and all new base / hangerage facilities are now nearing completion, as a phased handover from the existing military / HMCG provision commences with RAF ‘E’ Flight, 202 Squadron RAF Leconfield, flying the familiar Sea Kings, standing down on 31st March, to handover to the new Sikorsky S92A airframes of Bristow / HMCG on 1st April operating out of Humberside International Airport.

Bristow / Humberside will cover the MPSRO region, as well as the Yorkshire Dales, PDMRO, NESRA and southern parts of the LDSAMRA mountain rescue regions.

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With the change over from the largely Sea King SAR helicopter existing provision to the two new types, all MRT members in England, Wales and Scotland, alongside other agencies such as HMCG Teams, RNLI and similar, have to undergo specific awareness training to gain familiarity with the two new SAR Helicopter types before operations commence.

Such a vast undertaking is now progressing well and today, the first thirty MRT members from MPSRO regional MR teams travelled to Humberside International Airport to undertake their training.

Attending from Bolton MRT, was our Team Leader Garry Rhodes MBE – never one to 1 miss a helicopter flight opportunity and 2 add a new aircraft type to all he has ever flown in ! Call Out Contact Mike Marsh, Equipment Officer Paul Copley, Michael Eddleston, Gary Melia and John Dickinson.

Setting off from our Ladybridge Hall Base / HQ in Bolton at 06.35hrs the journey in our Minibus ‘Bolton Mobile 5’ to Humberside International Airport, Kirmington, can only be described as one that was a total misery of 3 hours and twenty minutes of road works, traffic jams, slow moving traffic, strong side winds and heavy downpours of rain.

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Arriving at the only finished and opened three weeks ago, brand new combined offices and Hanger of Bristow / HMCG / Humberside, on the far airside edge of Humberside International Airport, Kirmington, at 09.55hrs we were met by a howling wind and torrential rain!

A very warm welcome soon followed as we were greeted by air and ground crew, as representatives from the other MPSRO teams all started to arrive from the far flung corners of the MPSRO area.

Present were Holme Valley MRT, Calder Valley SRT, Bowland Pennine MRT, Rossendale and Pendle MRT and Bolton MRT, with a variety of our team vehicles all parked outside for this ‘gathering of the clans.’

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Amongst those attending were three Team Leaders, Garry Rhodes MBE of our team, Gillian Howarth of Holme Valley MRT and Peter Goble of Rossendale and Pendle MRT (accompanied by his ‘minder’ Deputy Team Leader Graham Dalley)

Former MRT Team Leaders Tony Bond of BPMRT and Peter Farnell of Calder Valley SRT were also present, so many Team Leaders and former team Leaders in one room – a lot of chiefs but there were still a lot of indians also around!

Inevitably amongst some present – those of more senior years and length of service in mountain rescue, our Team Leader and Mike Marsh included, the talk before the training started was of ‘the good old days of the SAR Wessex HAR Mk2 and SAR Sea King HAR Mk3,’ with Peter Farnell of CVSRT and Ian Ordish of BPMRT even remembering as mere youths many eons ago at the start of their time in mountain rescue, of working with the SAR Westland Whirlwind HAR Mk10.

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All thirty mountain rescue members from the five teams present, were split in to three groups for what has been termed the Stage 1B training, and entered the nice new clean hanger for very thorough and necessarily informative and interesting briefings on the aircraft cabin, covering many diverse operational and safety features and issues.

Present was airframe Sikorsky S92A G-MCGE, obviously looking very new and clean, looked over by Bristow ground crew and engineers.

Each group was shown around the helicopter by different crew members, going over all aspects of the agreed mountain rescue SAR – H Stage 1B training programme.

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The helicopter systems were all explained to those present, including the FLIR and Tracker Camera systems, skyshout / siren, and winch hook operation, seat operation and emergency egress points (all windows ‘pop out’ if required and pushed at the correct point, or can be manually opened in some circumstances)

The Tyromont Helicopter Rescue Bag was also demonstrated, which many commented on as looking like a great piece of kit.

A break for lunch and with the strong winds still howling outside, the opportunity presented itself for all present to also undergo Stage 1C training, namely with the helicopter airborne, all were to be winched in and out, including the two mountain rescue air scenting search dogs present. (Search Dog Meg / Handler Peter Farnell of CVSRT, and Search Dog Finn / Handler Steve Garafalo of RPMRT)

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The aircrew and groundcrew from Bristow / HMCG could not have been more helpful and welcoming, as the day progressed and all realised they were about to receive this ‘additional’ training, particularly as it was to involve a flight, albeit of very short duration.

Organised in ‘sticks’ of circa five / six, every MRT member present and the two Search dogs, were all winched in to and out of the Helicopter, as well as every member taking a full part in the use of the high line.

The flying of the helicopter was very impressive, particularly as the two pilots kept the aircraft in the hover, some twenty feet above the ground for a very long time period, flying manually, whilst never moving more than a few feet from a fixed hover point in very strong winds.

The down wash, said by the pilot afterwards to be some 30% more than the Sea Kings that most of those attending were used to, was obviously challenging, but given that this winch practice was only an exercise, the aircrew kept the winching height much lower than would be carried out operationally.

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Under the close supervision of the air crew involved, all got to experience the noise and down wash under the hovering helicopter for a considerable time, which was a fantastic learning opportunity, with grateful thanks to the air crew concerned.

With the training completed by 14.45hrs, every MRT member present had covered all the contents of Stage 1B and Stage 1C training.

Farewells and thanks were exchanged as all departed at 15.15hrs with many new friendships and working relationships hopefully being formed.

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The six Bolton MRT members present would like to express their sincere thanks to all the Bristow and Coastguard staff present today, air crew / ground crew and office staff, who were so welcoming and so enthusiastic to pass on their knowledge.

As is usually the case, they could not record the names of all who were so friendly and happy to take us through todays training, but the following were noted by our Team Leader, with thanks;

  • Dan Wade, Winch Operator, ex Royal Navy FAA, RNAS Culdrose of late (and who could easily have a second career as a stand up comedian!)
  • Chris Gibbins, Chief AirCrewman, Winchman and Paramedic.
  • ‘Windy’ Miller, Captain / Pilot, ex RAF Sea King.
  • Dave Preston, Pilot.

Hopefully our Team Leader got all the above names and some past careers where known, correct!

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All that remained was the journey back for the Bolton Six, through the same traffic jams, road works, hold ups and this time prolonged snow showers, with all getting back to our Ladybridge Hall Base / HQ at 18.45hrs … a very long but very interesting day.

Finally thanks are expressed to Mike Park MREW SAR –H Migration Group, SPoC (Single Point of Contact) and our MPSRO Regional SAR-H representatives, Andy Haigh of RPMRT and Kev Camplin of BPMRT, who have together organised and co-ordinated the provision of this training and will do similar for future training.

All Bolton MRT operational members over the next couple of months will have to undergo this essential (and fun it has to admitted) training, with our next contingents of six each again, attending Bristow / Humberside, on Friday 6th February and Saturday 28th February 2015.