Operations in Iraq

Lieutenant Philip West, Royal Navy

It is with deep regret that the Ministry of Defence can confirm that Lieutenant Philip West, 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.

Lieutenant Philip West (All rights reserved.)
Lieutenant Philip West (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.

Phil, aged 32, lived in Budock Water with his fiancee Nicky who works as a nurse at Treliske hospital. The couple were due to be married in August this year and had been converting a barn together.

As a boy, Phil lived in Carlisle, moving when he was ten to Hoy Lake on the Wirral. He went to Salford University when he was 18 and joined the University Royal Naval Unit where he developed his interest in the RN. Having obtained his degree he joined Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth in 1992 and commenced officer training. His parents recall how he had always wanted to fly and his decision to join the service made them extremely proud. Following Sea King Observer training he gained his wings in 1994. Phil served in HMS Invincible during the Adriatic deployment of 1996 and was awarded the campaign medal for his service.

Nicky and Phil met in Falmouth in 1998 when he was serving at RNAS Culdrose. Since settling in the region Phil, much to the amusement of his family, had become quite a countryman. He loved his dog Georgie and Nicky’s four horses. Nicky’s parents Steve and Sandra, who live in Budock Water, adopted him into their family and Steve introduced him to the game of golf of which he became a devotee.

Both families were looking forward to celebrating the couple’s marriage in August and his tragic loss is so hard to bear. However, they have all been overwhelmed by the tremendous support that they have received from friends and family which is proving a great comfort.

Phil was known throughout 849 as “Stretch” on account of his height (6’4” (1.9m)). He was admired by his colleagues for his professionalism and always put those he was with at their ease. Nicky described him as, “patient, thoughtful and considerate.” All those who were close to him miss him greatly.

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.