News story

60 years of search and rescue

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Fleet Air Arm Museum in Somerset is celebrating 60 years of Royal Navy helicopter search and rescue with a fabulous summer exhibition.

At the heart of the display will be the Sea King flown by Prince Andrew in the Falklands Conflict, which was used to conduct a rescue mission during the campaign, and a Dragonfly, the small helicopter which began the rich tapestry of lifesaving and heritage.

In 1953, the Royal Navy took delivery of its first Westland Dragonfly aircraft to form dedicated search and rescue squadrons and units around the UK. And, in the intervening 6 decades, these brave men and women have rescued tens of thousands of stricken or stranded souls.

Highlights of the exhibition include, on 2 August at 2pm, the opportunity to meet Commander Mike Norman who received an Air Force Cross for his part in the rescue of the crew of the fishing boat Ben Asdale off the Cornish coast on New Year’s Eve 1978.

A Royal Navy search and rescue crew member
A Royal Navy search and rescue crew member is winched into the cabin of a Sea King helicopter during a training exercise [Picture: Petty Officer (Photographer) Paul A'Barrow, Crown copyright]

On 7 and 8 August at 2pm, visitors can hear from Sergeant Tony Russell, awarded the George Medal for his bravery in rescuing 2 yachtsmen in stormy weather and mountainous seas.

And on 21 and 22 August, 2 former Royal Navy rescuers, Lieutenant Commanders Paul Belding and David Elliott, will share their experiences of rescues conducted in the 70s from Royal Naval Air Station Lossiemouth.

Current serving search and rescue crew members will also be at the museum to chat to members of the public on 7, 8, 12, 21, 22, 29 and 30 August, and on 4 and 5 September. The exhibition runs until 5 September.

The Westland Dragonfly in action
The Royal Navy took delivery of its first Westland Dragonfly aircraft in 1953 to form dedicated search and rescue units around the UK [Picture: Crown copyright]

Young visitors can really get a feel for what it is like to be a rescue hero, with flight overalls and helmets to try on, and they can experience what it might feel like to await rescue at sea by trying out a life raft.

Visit the Fleet Air Arm Museum website for further information about this exhibition and the museum’s other summer highlights.