Hero celebration

AN RAF squadron is today preparing to celebrate its 2000th rescue mission. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING reports on the heroes of the sky.FEW think of the RAF's Search and Rescue operation as a 999 emergency service, yet more than 900 people today owe it a debt of gratitude.

By Tracey Sparling

AN RAF squadron is today preparing to celebrate its 2000th rescue mission. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING reports on the heroes of the sky.

FEW think of the RAF's Search and Rescue operation as a 999 emergency service, yet more than 900 people today owe it a debt of gratitude.

That's how many people have been rescued in 'scrambles', over the past 12 years since B Flight 22 Squadron moved to Suffolk, from RAF Manston in Kent.


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The crew are now based at Wattisham Airfield near Stowmarket, and are a familiar sight when their unmistakable yellow SeaKing helicopter travels the skies of Suffolk. The crew consists of about 20 air crew 40 engineers and two SeaKing helicopters and one of their most memorable scrambles was the Ramsgate tower block fire in July 2001. In the drama, B Flight crews winched eight men and three children to safety.

The crew sometimes finds itself taking to the air on a job which in some way falls short of a successful conclusion. Numerous times they set off with the aim of finding a missing person, only to find themselves returning to base when the emergency is stood down, or has ended in tragedy, but they hope the number of triumphant rescues will ultimately outweigh the darker days formed by the tragic incidents on sea and on land.

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RAF Search and Rescue was officially established back in 1941, to aid all military aircrew if ever they should come into difficulty while on training or operations. Though that remains their first and foremost role nowadays, the facility has become more heavily concerned with ships or civilians in trouble at sea.

These distinctive craft with their long bright yellow fuselages are operated by the RAF from bases such as Wattisham in Suffolk Lossiemouth in Scotland and Boulmer in Northumberland

An impressive sight flying low over Britain's coastline at speeds of up to 143mph they have played a key role in locating missing people both on land and at sea

The helicopters that collided over the Gulf were Royal Navy operated Mk7 Airborne Early Warning AEW) SeaKings that fulfil an entirely different role. Following the Falklands conflict in 1982 military commanders decided that AEW or Airborne Surveillance and Area Control ASAC) as it is now called was an essential part of air power at sea, Sea Kings were chosen for the job and provide vital tactical control to the Harrier jump jets" and other planes based on British aircraft carriers

Manufactured in Britain by AgustaWestland the Sea King was developed for the Royal Navy and has been in service for more than 25 years.

There are more than 300 in service with both the RAF and Royal Navy.

They are also used by the navies and air forces of countries such as Australia Egypt Germany India and Pakistan.

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