Operations in Iraq

Lieutenant Antony King

It is with deep regret that the Ministry of Defence can confirm that Lieutenant Antony King was killed when two Mk 7 Sea King Airborne Surveillance and Control (ASAC) helicopters collided over international waters in the Gulf on Saturday 22 March 2003.

Lieutenant Antony King (All rights reserved.)
Lieutenant Antony King (All rights reserved.)

The helicopters were from 849 Squadron A Flight, which is based at the Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose, in Cornwall. The crash was not the result of enemy action and tragically there were no survivors.

Tony, who joined the Royal Navy in 1987 at the age of 19, had recently been selected for promotion to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. A committed family man, he lived with his wife Sarah and children David (five) and Molly (four) in their home in Helston. Tony valued his family and close friends above all else and his loss to them all has been devastating.

Tony and Sarah’s families live in North Somerset where they both grew up. Following training as a Sea King Observer Tony was awarded his wings in 1990. In 1991 Tony served in HMS Ark Royal during the last Gulf War and was awarded the Gulf War Medal. Upon his return he joined the 849 Squadron HQ staff at Culdrose and in 1994 he married Sarah at their parish church in Somerset. In 1996 Tony deployed to the Adriatic and was again awarded a campaign medal for his service.

His son David was born in 1997 followed by the birth of Molly in 1999. Although the family have made several moves to further Tony’s career they have always regarded Helston as home. They purchased their dream house in 2001 and, with the help of his best friend, Tony took up the art of DIY. The family are closely connected with St Michael’s Church Primary School where Sarah was a teacher (now a governor) and their son David is a pupil.

Tony’s family described him as a “larger than life” character with a “tremendous presence”. He had a passion for rugby and as a young man had captained the Yatton Colts. In more recent years he has played for Stithians. Popular with his squadron Tony’s colleagues were delighted by the news of his forthcoming promotion and considered it well deserved.

Tony has left all who his life touched with affectionate and happy memories. Sarah summed him up by saying, “Tony made people laugh.”

Lieutenant King was awarded a posthumous Mention in Despatches in the Operational Honours published on 31 October 2003, in recognition of the vital work that he had carried out prior to his death in bringing into service a new electronic system that allowed tactically vital radar data to be fed quickly and accurately to the Land Commander.

The Commanding Officer of 849 Squadron asked for this letter to be published in response to all the messages of condolence received:

The early hours of 22 March 2003 marked a sad day in the proud history of 849 Naval Air Squadron. Two Sea King Mk 7 helicopters of 849 A Flight collided over the North Arabian Gulf, whilst conducting missions in support of coalition forces, with the loss of all seven crewmembers. As one can imagine, this tragic event has shocked and devastated everyone, not only the friends and loved ones of those involved but also of those associated in anyway with 849 Naval Air Squadron, the wider Fleet Air Arm community, and beyond.

Messages of condolence, support and sympathy began arriving early Saturday morning. Since then, Culdrose and 849 Squadron have been overwhelmed by the flow of tributes that continue to arrive. These have come from all quarters and include those close to fallen comrades, fellow aviators, members of the armed forces and from the general public. The strength and understanding that these messages convey cannot be underestimated; they have been, and continue to be, of enormous support not only to the friends and family of those involved, but to those still serving on A Flight and the 849 community as a whole. It will take time to respond personally to all the tributes, but be assured that all those associated with 849 Naval Air Squadron are eternally grateful and will draw great strength from them in the coming weeks and months.

Despite such horrendous losses, 849 A Flight remain in theatre and continue to execute vital missions in support of Gulf operations. The ‘Eyes of the Fleet’ may have dimmed briefly but they remain open, alert and ever vigilant. Finally, to our fallen comrades from 849 A Flight we say: Rest in peace in the knowledge that your professionalism, dedication and ultimate sacrifice will never go unrecognised or be forgotten.