Team members take part in second MPSRO SAR-H training day, this time at Bolton Scout Trust, Bibbys Farm Campsite, Limbrick, Chorley

Our 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.

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Brand new sate of the art latest generation SAR helicopters, some new location arrangements and all new base / hangerage facilities are now nearing completion nationally, 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 our readers may recall that on Wednesday 28th January 2015, the first thirty MRT members from MPSRO regional MR teams travelled to Humberside International Airport to undertake their training.

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Attending in January 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 (Please see website ‘News’ report dated the same for an account of this day)

Today saw the second day of training for MPSRO member teams, with the venue this time being the excellent facilities of Bolton Scout Trust, Bibbys Farm Campsite, Limbrick, Chorley (used by the Bolton MRT for our Annual Foundation Course in Mountain Rescue October weekend)

Setting off from our Ladybridge Hall Base / HQ at 11.00hrs, the following Bolton MRT members attended for the training; Deputy Team Leader Chris Greenhalgh, Equipment Officer – Medical Nigel Booth, Phil Horner, Ken Oakes, Mark Scott, Trainee member Neil Haigh, Equipment Officer – Vehicles Neil Aspinall, David Crawford, Life Vice President Alan James, Steve O’Hara, Trainee member Heath Doran and Trainee member Rasti Schweizer.

Meeting them at Bibby’s, were colleague team members; President Bob Hutchinson, Training Officer Alistair Greenough, Call Out Contact Mike Marsh and our Team Leader Garry Rhodes MBE, all four assisting with catering, Landing Zone tasking, and control / co-ordination on the day, but not taking part in the specific training as such.

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Six Team members from each of Calder Valley SRT, Holme Valley MRT and Bowland Pennine MRT also attended.

Again as with the first training day, it was a case of ‘Friends Reunited’ for some, as old friendships were remembered, with the familiar faces to the older serving MRT members present of Pete Phillips, Tony and Martin Burrie from HVMRT, Al Day and Hiliary Newsome of CVSRT and Dave Matthews of BPMRT.

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Including our own Alan James present, again once more we had some present who started off in the good old days of the Whirlwind HAR Mk 10, through Wessex and Sea King to this ‘their’ fourth SAR helicopter type!

Due to arrive at circa 13.00hrs, our Team Leader Garry Rhodes MBE had made the usual courtesy phone calls to Helimed (NWAS Airdesk), NPAS Warton and Lancashire Constabulary FIM to inform them of the exercise, when in liaison with HMCG Humberside he was advised of a revised later arrival time.

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The ancient art of ‘group milling’ was then practised to while away the waiting time, whilst Bob Hutchinson and Alistair kept everybody fed with soup, hot drinks and a thick beef burger each.

Modern technology in the form of Alan James mobile phone ‘plane finder’ app, enabled us to watch HMCG Sikorsky S92A take off and commence its flight to Bibbys from Humberside International Airport.

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Older technology, in the form of the Mark One eyeball, saw a member of Holme Valley MRT out dog walking in Holmfirth, report to us the helicopter was overhead that area in bound to us.

And with more present signing up to the app, G-MCGE was tracked across UK airspace until at 14.52hrs on our radio channel 62A the message “Bolton Control from Coastguard Golf Echo with you in 3 minutes,” came over loud and clear.

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Arriving overhead at 14.55hrs, the crew of G-MCGE then spent a short while necessarily positioning their aircraft, landing and shutting down just after 15.00hrs – sinking a wee bit in to the soft ground.

The aircrew were welcomed by our Team Leader Garry Rhodes MBE who offered tea and a burger for the six aircrew attending, followed by an introductory brief from Chief Pilot Liz Forsyth.

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All thirty mountain rescue members from the four teams present, were then split in to three groups for what has been termed the Stage 1B training, and went to the landing field to gather around the still shiny new airframe of Sikorsky S92A G-MCGE for very thorough and necessarily informative and interesting briefings on the aircraft cabin, covering many diverse operational and safety features and issues.

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 had all the gear freaks present drooling!

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With time pressing, and mindful of the journey ahead back to Humberside, a small group of team members present were asked to board the aircraft, which then took off at circa 17.10hrs, hovered over the landing zone and winched out the lucky seven with their rucksacs, which fortuitously for us turned out to be all Bolton MRT members.

As would be expected, the flying of the helicopter was very impressive to watch, particularly as the two pilots kept the aircraft in the same hover, a short distance above the ground expertly flying manually, whilst never moving more than a few feet from a fixed hover point in the westerly wind.

The down wash, apparently some 30% more than the Sea Kings that most of those attending were used to, was again 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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Winching over, and under the close supervision of two of the air crew on the ground, all then got to experience the noise and down wash under the hovering helicopter whilst carrying out Hi-Lining, using a rucksac on the winch wire.

With the training completed by circa 17.30hrs, every MRT member present had covered all the contents of Stage 1B training with seven having also covered Stage 1C training.

Both air crew on the ground were then winched in to the still hovering helicopter, which duly departed at 17.35hrs with more new friendships and working relationships formed.

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The twelve Bolton MRT members present for their training today would like to express their sincere thanks to the six Bristow / Coastguard air crew attending, who were so welcoming and so enthusiastic to pass on their knowledge;

  • Liz Forsyth, Chief Pilot, former HMCG Stornoway, and RAF SAR Lossiemouth and Valley.
  • Dave Preston, Pilot / Captain, Extensive SAR helicopter background.
  • Chris Gibbins, Chief AirCrewman, Winchman and Paramedic, former Ambulance Service and HMCG SAR.
  • Kate Willoughby, Winchwoman, former RAF.
  • Rob Seall, Winch operator, former Royal Marines Junglies and SAR Prestwick (Gannet)
  • Paul Noakes, winch operator, former Royal Navy.

(webmaster, any mistakes about backgrounds is entirely the fault of our Team Leaders reporting!)

All that remained was cleaning up the venue for the Bolton sixteen present, with all getting back to our Ladybridge Hall Base / HQ by 19.00hrs and their homes by 19.30hrs … a very long but very interesting day.

Thanks are expressed to our fantastic friends at Bolton Scout Trust, Bibbys Farm Campsite, for allowing us to once again use this excellent facility to further the aims of mountain rescue training.

(sorry about the dimples in the field, its not a UFO that landed in the night it was Coastguard Golf Echo)

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Perhaps with Helimed, NPAS and now HMCG helicopters using this site, we should ask the Scouts to consider installing a bit of concrete, suitably weight bearing and with a large H on it!

Finally thanks are expressed to Mike Park MREW SAR –H Migration Group, SPoC (Single Point of Contact) and our MPSRO Regional SAR-H representative Kev Camplin of BPMRT, who have together organised and co-ordinated the provision of this training and will do similar for the third training event, also scheduled to take place at Bibbys, on Saturday 28th February 2015.

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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 twelve attending Bibbys on Saturday 28th February 2015, and six attending on Thursday 19th March 2015 (Possibly Bibbys)