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

Our regular readers will now 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 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.

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

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.

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)

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Tuesday 24th February 2015, saw the second day of training for MPSRO member teams, with the venue changing to the more local to us site of Bolton Scout Trust, Bibbys Farm Campsite, Limbrick, Chorley (used by the Bolton MRT for our Annual Foundation Course in Mountain Rescue October weekend)

The following Bolton MRT members attended for this second day of 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.
(Please see website ‘News’ report dated Tuesday 24th February for an account of this day)

Today saw the third day of MPSRO / MRT member team training with the new helicopter, with the venue once again being Bolton Scout Trust, Bibbys Farm Campsite, Limbrick, Chorley.

With a large number of MPSRO / MRT members attending, the day by necessity was split in to two sessions.

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Morning saw half the Bolton MRT contingent, joined by members from Bowland Pennine MRT and Calder Valley SRT (Including two of their Mountain Rescue Air Scenting Search Dogs)

The afternoon session involved the other half of the Bolton MRT contingent, this time joined by Rossendale and Pendle MRT and Holme Valley MRT.

With the aircraft due to arrive at 10.00hrs, all attending obviously started assembling earlier, with Bolton MRT members Equipment Officer- Water Dave Cook, Tony Dawson, Diane Blakeley, Ged Clarke, Paul Brain and Trainee Team member Matthew Morris, initially setting off from our Ladybridge Hall Base / HQ at 08.30hrs.

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Meeting them at Bibby’s, were colleague team members; President Bob Hutchinson, Training Officer Alistair Greenough, Call Out Contact Mike Marsh and our Equipment Officer – IT and Communications Steve Fletcher, all four assisting with Landing Zone tasking, and control / co-ordination on the day, but not taking part in the specific training as such for the morning session.

Support Group members Sarah Hindle, Laura Tunnicliffe and Iain Clarkson, all attended to work alongside Bob Hutchinson, to keep all attending today fed and watered (thanks also to Hannah Greenough, daughter of our Training Officer, who also assisted with catering)

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Our usual courtesy phone calls to Helimed (NWAS Airdesk), NPAS Warton and Lancashire Constabulary FIM to inform them of the exercise were being made, when in liaison with HMCG Humberside we were informed of a delayed arrival time (Thick fog in Humberside)

As we did on Tuesday’s training day, modern technology in the form of a mobile phone ‘plane finder’ app, enabled our ‘control team’ to watch HMCG Sikorsky S92A take off and commence its flight to Bibbys from Humberside International Airport.

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Arriving overhead at 10.30hrs, the crew of G-MCGE then spent a short while positioning their aircraft, landing at 10.39hrs and shutting down only to experience a distinct sinking feeling in to the soft ground.
Plan B saw the helicopter reposition to another part of the Scout camp, a stone surfaced car park area, quickly cleared of ground obstructions.

All mountain rescue members from the three teams present for the morning session were then split in to three groups for what has been termed the Stage 1B training, and went to the landing site to gather around 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.

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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.

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)

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A reporter / cameraman from ITV t’other side of the Pennines, who was accompanying the Calder Valley SRT group was also present, and interviewed Assistant Team Leader Simon Thresher of CVSRT, Paul Durham of Bowland Pennine MRT (the make up department regained his once youthful good looks!) and Bolton MRT team member Diane Blakeley.

With the time for the afternoon sessions to take over rapidly approaching, three groups were made up for the winching part of the first session, whilst the helicopter repositioned for a second time to the grass field adjacent the hard surfaced landing site, with this flying part of the exercise commencing at 12.45hrs.

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For the lucky four from our six ‘trainees’ present, they entered the helicopter rotors running, which then took off, and Diane Blakeley, Dave Cook, Matthew Morris and Tony Dawson, were all double strop winched out and down, and then back up again.

Landing, the same exercise was then carried out for BPMRT and then CVSRT, including search dogs Jack and Nell, with the helicopter back on the ground at 13.30hrs.

Morning session over, lunch was taken – Chilli with Rice or Chicken Pasta Bake (apologies for the one vegetarian amongst the aircrew! we nearly got the catering right) which followed the burger breakfast barm for everybody attending.

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Bolton MRT team member Gary Melia, visiting with his two young sons, also presented the aircrew with some slices of that local delicacy – a Frasers Pork Pie.

Afternoon saw the following Bolton MRT team members undertake their training ; Equipment Officer – IT and Communications Steve Fletcher, Training Officer Alistair Greenough, DVSD Dog Handler Dave Marsh, Kris Kilshaw, Gill Leigh, Michael Wakerley, Chairman Craig Lamb and Phil Crook.

Bolton MRT Trainee Team member Neil Haigh and our Team Leader Garry Rhodes MBE also arrived to assist with the session.

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Rossendale and Pendle MRT and Holme Valley MRT members also attended this afternoon session.
Essentially a repeat of the morning / first session, ‘the ground tour’ and excellent instruction was once again followed by flights and winching for the lucky ones – basically those MRT members who had never done this before ie with SAR Sea Kings.

These included our members Kris Kilshaw, Michael Wakerley and Phil Crook.

The helicopter lifted off with those who were to be winched out and back up, again double strop winching, but also with two passengers on board, who enjoyed their ‘hover flight’ from 16.10hrs to 16.50hrs, our Support Group members Sarah Hindle and Laura Tunnicliffe, who were invited to fly by the aircrew as thanks for their catering excellence.

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As we have come to expect, the flying of the helicopter was again very impressive to watch, 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.

Winching over, and under the close supervision of one 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 practice.

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With the training completed every MRT member present today had covered all the contents of Stage 1B training with many having also covered Stage 1C training.

G- MCGE duly departed at 16.55hrs with even more new friendships and working relationships formed, and just in time too, as the rain started to fall.

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

  • Peter McKenzie Brown, Pilot / Captain, former RAF SAR 11 years, Irish CG SAR 10 years.
  • Andrew ‘Windy’ Miller, Pilot / Captain, former RAF SAR.
  • Chris Gibbins, Chief AirCrewman, Winchman and Paramedic, former Ambulance Service and HMCG SAR. –  who has been present on all three MPSRO sessions to date.
  • Gary Forsyth, Winch operator, former RAF.
  • Mick Donnelly, Engineer, Licensed on type.

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

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We would like to particularly thank all the visiting aircrew for allowing the two very young sons of Bolton MRT team member Gary Melia, and Bolton MRT Neil Aspinall’s son, to have a good look all over their aircraft and to sit in the pilots seats – what a tale they’ll take to school on Monday morning.

Thanks are expressed again 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 even more ‘dimples’ in the camping field, that landing pad really does need building soon!)

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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 fourth training event, also scheduled to take place at Bibbys, on Thursday 19th March 2015.

All Bolton MRT operational members will have to undergo this essential (and fun it has to admitted) training, with our next contingent of six attending on Thursday 19th March 2015.