Operations in Iraq

Lieutenant James Williams

It is with deep regret that the Ministry of Defence can confirm that Lieutenant James Williams of the Royal Navy 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.

Ministry of Defence crest
Lieutenant James Williams (All rights reserved.)

Lieutenant James Williams (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.

James was the much-loved son of Vernon and Liz. He grew up in Winchester with his older sister Caroline. In 1994 he went to Liverpool University where he met his fiancee Sarah. James joined the Royal Navy in January 1999 and trained as a Sea King Observer. He was awarded his wings in July 2002. He joined 849 A Flight in January this year.

James was a very popular character in the Squadron, he and Sarah have many good friends, who are now providing tremendous support at this difficult time. They chose to settle in Falmouth where Sarah intends to practice as a dentist. The deployment to the Gulf was his first operational tour of duty. He was 28.

From an early age James had been fascinated by aircraft, he joined the Royal Navy in fulfilment of an ambition to fly and to serve his country. His parents recall how proud he was to wear his uniform and said that he died doing the job he loved most.

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.

Published 24 March 2003