Wattisham-based Sea King helicopters make final search and rescue flights

The RAF Search and Rescue Sea King from 22 Sqn at Wattisham searches the sea at Southwold for the mi

The RAF Search and Rescue Sea King from 22 Sqn at Wattisham searches the sea at Southwold for the missing swimmer.Photograph Simon Parker - Credit: Archant

Staff and pilots at Wattisham Airfield have celebrated carrying out more than 3,000 rescues with the Sea King helicopters, after the long-serving aircraft carried out their final tasks yesterday.

At 1pm, search and rescue services transferred over to private company Bristow Helicopters, based at London Ashford Airport in Kent.

But, for those who served countless hours keeping those along the East Anglian coastline safe, it was an emotional day.

Flight Lieutenant Doug Larkham said: “It was an overwhelming sense of achievement that we have done a good job here for quite a few years.

“We have carried out over 3,000 rescues since we have been here, and we have had two Sea Kings based here since around 1995.

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However, while the search and rescue services are being moved to Bristow, the Sea King helicopters will be carrying out commitments in the Falklands until March next year, before it is retired.

The staff and engineers who worked with the Sea King helicopters at Wattisham will be moving into new roles.

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Flt lt Larkham continued: “It’s a completely mixed bag – some are moving to different roles at Wattisham, some are moving to different airfields and some have moved across to Bristow.”

In 2013, the Department for Transport signed a £1.6billion contract with the Bristow Group, as the service is moved away from the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

The new search and rescue services will be carried out in AugustaWestland AW139 and S592 helicopters, with the new base’s chief pilot, Captain Neil Robertson, a former Sea King pilot who previously served at Wattisham.

Cpt Robertson said: “Everyone at the base feels privileged to be involved in delivering such an important, lifesaving service and we are looking forward to getting started.

“Close working relationships with the other emergency services in the area and the military are key to ensuring a smooth transition to the civilian service and we’re grateful for all the support we’ve received from them.”

Flt lt Larkham concluded: “We are just pleased to get across the finish line, and finish nice and safe.”

The Sea Kings were the last RAF group on the base after it transferred to the Army from RAF control in 1993.

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