Search and Rescue History
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Air/Sea Search and Rescue (SAR) activities by the Royal Navy and its successors at Lee-on-Solent have provided a first class service through war and peace for the last 60 years.
The Establishment at Lee-on-Solent has a long tradition of Search and Rescue activities in the Solent. In the Second World War, SAR operations were a necessary task for rescuing downed aircrew by seaplane squadrons based at HMS Daedalus. The RN seaplane facilities finally ceased post-war, and their task was take over by Royal Navy helicopters during which many resue operations were undertaken. The SAR duties continue to the present day by the HM Coast Guard and Bristows helicopters.
Sea Otters were used for Search and Rescue activities in WW2 and the late 1940s at Lee on Solent
Royal Navy Air-Sea Search and Rescue (SAR)
Royal Navy Second World War SAR duties at Lee were carried out by Sea Otters of the "Search and Rescue Flight" of 781 Communications squadron. The squadron continued these duties immediately post war, and also provided communications aircraft for VIPs, and operated an "Instrument Examining Flight" and "Bad Weather Flying Training Flight" as wel as day and night training of all naval pilots in flying in adverse weather conditions. 781 squadron provided a Search and Rescue commitment for the Fleet Air Arm up till October 1952 when the squadron's Sea Otters were withdrawn.
Early Royal Navy Dragonfly
Post war the helicopter was increasingly replacing the role of the fixed wing aircraft in the Fleet Air Arm. A former Lee-on-Solent squadron, 771 squadron, received in February 1945 the Hoverfly, making it the first naval air squadron to operate helicopters. It was mainly based at Portland, although the fixed-wing element of the squadron moved to Lee-on-Solent in March 1947, however 771 squadron assumed a dedicated SAR role only with the introduction of the Whirlwind HAR 3 in the 1960s. (link to 771 squadron today at RNAS Culdrose)
Further helicopter developments at Daedalus followed in November 1955 by 705 squadron being restyled as a Helicopter Training Squadron at Lee, where it remained until moving to Culdrose in 1958.
Wessex HU5 XS496 RN at Lee on Solent 23 February 1978
However, the Air Station had to wait another decade before it could eventually see its first helicopters for SAR duties. The resident 781 "Search and Rescue Flight" Communications squadron was not to see its first Whirlwind HAR.1 for SAR duties until 1959, which were eventually replaced by Wessex HU.5s in June 1969.
For the next dozen years, 781 squadron maintained its SAR work with its Wessex HU.5s until the 1980s, only finally being disbanded on 31 March 1981 after 41 years residing at Lee-on-Solent.
SAR activities were then briefly undertaken by the RAF, with a detachment of 202 RAF squadron Sea King HAR3 being stationed at Lee-on-Solent from April till May 1988.
Sea King HAR3 in 202 Squadron markings when the RAF briefly returned to Lee in 1988
|HM COASTGUARDS AND BRISTOWS HELICOPTERS|
Coastguard SAR 61 bases are located at Stornaway, Sumburgh, Lee-on-Solent and Portland. The first base to come on line was Sumburgh in 1983 and was followed by Stornaway, 1987, Lee-on Solent, 1988, and finally, Portland in 1995.
With the closure of the Royal Navy establishment the SAR duties continue in the Solent, an area which has been identified as one of the UK's busiest coastal areas and deserves the highest level of SAR cover. In December 1996 a Ministerial decision was made to allow the Coastguard to continue its operations at Daedalus, therefore continuing the unbroken tradition of air SAR duties since the early 1940s.
Today the Lee airfield is home to a number of agencies, including the Hampshire Police Air Support Unit, and adjoining it separately fenced off is the HM Coastguard Solent Maritime Rescue Control Centre and the SAR Bristows helicopter. The search and rescue facility being operated by Bristows Helicopters on behalf of HM Coastguard.
Bristows SAR helicopter (Jean Laws)
Bristows Search and Rescue (ref : Bristow Base: Coastguard SAR, UK).
According to official records, the Coastguard Sikorsky S61N search-and-rescue helicopter currently based at Lee-on-Solent undertook 188 sorties and rescued 106 people during 1991.
The Bristows Sikorsky S61N helicopter is the state of the art platform for modern civilian Air Sea Rescue operations and has many advanced features that would normally only be found in the military enviroment. The Bristows helicopter contracted to provide the service from Lee-on-Solent has an all-weather and night-time capability which under the current arrangements requires it to be available for operations as far west as Brixham during the hours of darkness.
The base employs a total of 24 people, 7 Pilots, 7 Engineers, 7 Winchmen/Operators, and 3 Administration Staff. Each member of the team has more than 19 years experience in their field of expertise and many are recruited from the former Naval Air Station or other areas of the Armed Forces. They have regular training sessions and are constantly improving their skills to meet the needs of the operation. Like many other emergency services, the crew are all actively involved in fund raising activities throughout the year.
This shot is of G-BIMU at Lee-on-Solent
From 1988, commercial Search and Rescue Helicopters took over the former role played by the
Lee on Solent Fleet Air Arm aircraft.
DOWNLOAD a Multimedia - clip of the Bristows Helicopter from Meridian TV
Also see the following reference:
See the 10 Downing Street web site for an interview with one of the Lee on Solent SAR helicopter crew members
Search and Rescue involving the Indian Navy
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