Goodbye to our friends at ‘C’ Flight, 22 Squadron, RAF Valley

Tonight at midnight, another phase of the civilianisation of the military SAR UK coverage takes place, when HMCG Caernarvon takes over the helicopter SAR tasking in North Wales and parts of the north west from ‘C’ Flight, 22 Squadron, RAF Valley.

We in Bolton MRT wish to pass on our thanks to all current and past air and ground crew at ‘C’ Flight, 22 Squadron, RAF Valley, in recognition of all lives saved through their long and illustrious provision of helicopter SAR coverage within ‘C’ Flights area of operations.

Training with the Sea King May 2006

Though we in Bolton MRT came under ‘E’ Flight, 202 Squadron, RAF Leconfield’s area of operations, it was inevitably ‘C’ Flight, 22 Squadron from RAF Valley on Anglesey, that came to our area on operations.

In reality we seldom worked with the RAF Wessex HAR Mk 2 and their replacement airframe the Sea King HAR Mk 3 of 22 Sqn and 202 Sqn operationally, but we enjoyed many training links and exercises both in our team area and at their host airfields.

It was a Sea King from ‘C’ Flight, 22 Squadron, RAF Valley, that attended a three persons fatal aircraft crash in our team area back in February 2000, when Bolton MRT played a major part in this tragic search and rescue operation.

‘C’ Flight, 22 Squadron, RAF Valley, regularly hosted helicopter familiarisation training for us at their RAF Valley base, as well as exercising with us in our team area, with both the Wessex and Sea King airframes over the years.

One very memorable exercise with ‘C’ Flight, 22 Sqn, as our Team Leader Garry Rhodes MBE recalls, was in the days of the Wessex HAR Mk 2, when at the conclusion of a full days exercise, we bade the aircrew and aircraft farewell from the Roddlesworth / Tockholes exercise area, only to hear the same aircraft declare over the radio net in use, minutes after departing a MAYDAY call, as Garry recalls the message was MAYDAY MAYDAY going down in the Bolton area!

A Sea King attending Incident 92/2008

Thankfully the reason for the MAYDAY turned out to be ‘minor’ as such, and no one was injured – famously we radioed to the crew, once on the ground, “You gave us a scare there,” the reply came back, “we gave YOU a scare!”

In the past we have also as a team, been involved in rescues in the Ogwen valley area with ‘C’ Flight, when on joint exercises with Ogwen Valley MRO, and also in the Hellvellyn area once, when on a winter training exercise we became centrally involved in dealing with a serious avalanche incident and ‘C’ Flight flew in to assist the joint RAF MRT, Bolton MRT, Patterdale MRT rescue operation in truly atrocious winter conditions, contributing greatly to saving the injured climbers life, thanks to fantastic piloting skills.

Well the bright yellow and usually heavily exhaust stained Sea Kings are now but a memory, as are their predecessors, the Wessex, but many in the Bolton MRT will fondly remember them, whilst a great many persons they came to the aid of will remember them truly as life savers.

Whilst we in the MRT and SAR communities now look to the brand new HMCG Sikorsky S92s and Augusta Westlands, and their wealth of advanced SAR kit, and state of the art airframe technologies as the future, we can recall with fondness our friends in the RAF helicopter SAR community who were always ready to respond or offer up training opportunities for us.