Official government figures show Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose, is the busiest ‘Search and Rescue’ unit.
The Fleet Air Arm’s Cornish Air Base is home to 771 Naval Air Squadron who are on call around the clock, 365 days a year, in some of the most inhospitable weather conditions.
Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose provides search and rescue (SAR) coverage across the south west of England, particularly around the coast of Cornwall. The Sea King helicopters of 771 Naval Air Squadron also give SAR coverage into the Atlantic Ocean; 250 nautical miles centred on The Scilly Isles.
During 2013, 771 Squadron’s ‘duty’ helicopter was called out on 257 occasions. It moved 212 people, with an average flying time of 1 hour 28 minutes on task and was tasked to ‘jobs’ at an average of 35 miles away from Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose.
Of England’s five SAR stations, Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose was the busiest. Culdrose was the third busiest unit in the country behind her sister Royal Navy Station, HMS Gannet in Scotland. HMS Gannet had 329 callouts and RAF Valley in North Wales had 335 during 2013.
“I am constantly impressed with the professionalism and determination of the service personnel and civilian staff who strive to ensure the aircraft are available 24 hours, every day”, said Commander Martin Shepherd, Commanding Officer of 771 Naval Air Squadron. “Yet again, this has been a very busy year for the Royal Navy SAR Force, which in 2013 celebrated its 60th anniversary. 2014 has got off to an even busier start and we continue to stand ready to come to the assistance of those in need.”
From the government statistics, it was also notable that both HMS Gannet and Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose had a high proportion of medical-transfers compared with the national average (22% and 19% respectively) of 11%. Culdrose often provides hospital transfers between the Isles of Scilly and the mainland. Likewise HMS Gannet provides transfers from some of the more remote regions of Scotland, including the offshore islands of the Hebrides.
The Royal Navy operates just two of the UK’s 12 SAR units (four are operated by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, while the remaining six are RAF) – yet their combined share of the overall UK percentage of call outs leaves them punching well above their weight, providing 23.7 per cent of the overall responses.
Commander Andrew Rose, the Sea King Force Commander said “The Red and Grey livery of 771 Naval Air Squadron’s SAR Sea Kings over the Cornish Skies is a reassuring sight to many fishermen, residents and holiday makers throughout the year. The men and women of 771 Squadron, whether they maintain the aircraft, fly the rescue missions or perform a supporting role, can be justifiably proud of the outstanding job that they perform day in day out, often in the harshest of weather and environmental conditions. Undoubtedly it is one of the most rewarding jobs for those involved at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose.”