The Scottish Region visited HMS Gannet's SAR Flight on Tuesday 7 November 2006 and were given an overview of the background and operations of HMS Gannet by Tom Hutchson and a briefing on Search and Rescue (SAR) Operations by Flight Lieutenant Mike Paulet, followed by a close look at the Sea King helicopters used by the flight.
Members of the Scottish Region party in front of one of HMS Gannet's Sea King HU Mk. 5 helicopters.
© John G. Fender 2011
HMS Gannet is responsible for an area extending from Ben Nevis in the north of Scotland to the Isle of Man and the Lake District in the South and from Edinburgh and the borders in the East to Northern Ireland and some 200 miles out into the North Atlantic, an area of around 81,000 square miles.
HMS Gannet was established at Prestwick Airport in 1971 and was home to three Naval Air Squadrons, 814 NAS, 824 NAS and 819 NAS, which became the longest serving squadron, until it was decommissioned in November 2001. The site was chosen for it's excellent weather record and communications and was formerly an USAF base. There are 16 officers, 55 ratings and 32 civilian staff on the strength of HMS Gannet.
Helicopters are on standby 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year to provide assistance. In addition to, military activities, such providing assistance for jet pilots, who have had to eject from their aircraft, missions undertaken include medical evacuation from ships, to searching for lost climbers in the hills. Often injured climbers are airlifted to hospital. An evacuation service is also provided for many of the Scottish Islands and often seriously ill people are flown to hospital on the mainland. The helicopters often transport specialist medical teams, including baby incubators and cardiac equipment, providing a vital service to remote communities. In addition to these activities, the crews carry out fleet support duties with the Navy's ships and Submarines and often undertake training at the Faslane Naval Base.
HMS Gannet has 3 Sea King HU Mk 5 helicopters that were formerly used for Anti-submarine Warfare duties, painted in red and grey to distinguish them as Search and Rescue aircraft. One helicopter is always ready for immediate use, whilst the second can be undergoing maintenance but can be available if required within a few hours. This enables more complex maintenance to be undertaken on the third. This version of Sea King is powered by two Rolls Royce Gnome H1400 gas turbines and has a maximum speed of 150 mph and a maximum range of 450 miles, with a 5 hour endurance. The Sea King can fly on one engine, but for hovering both are required.
The crew consists of two pilots and an observer crewman in the rear along with a medic if required. All of the crewmen in the rear compartment are trained in immediate emergency care, enabling treatment to be given during transport to hospital. The crew can administer drugs to patients and they have resuscitation and defibrillator equipment, in addition to other medical supplies. Teamwork is essential for successful operations and the crews regularly practice their skills in exercises with the other emergency services, including the RNLI and Coastguard. The helicopters are filled with winches that can lift up to 600 pounds and the various harnesses and other equipment was shown to members. Detailed explanations of flying and operating the helicopters were provided by the crew.
After being shown over the helicopters, the party was shown how operations are planned and night vision goggles were also demonstrated, with members having the opportunity to try these for themselves. HMS Gannet's SAR Flight is the busiest Search and Rescue unit in the UK, with 267 call outs in 2005 and over 200 call outs so fat this year. The majority of rescues that are carried out are land based, rather than from vessels at sea, reflecting the dangers of the Scottish hills.
The Scottish Region would like to thank Tom Hutchison for hosting the event, Mike Paulet, Al Hinchcliffe and Florry Ford for their detailed briefings and explanations of various aspects of SAR work and for showing the party over the Sea King Helicopters.
Report by John Fender.
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