A very good thing has come to an end

last flight of the Navy Sea Kings

There are a lot of good things about the UK. Not everyone appreciates them, but mostly I do. One of my very favourite institutions has been the RAF/Navy Search and Rescue. I’ve never had the occasion to use them, but I’ve had a fair bit of contact with them through my time with the Teesdale Search and Rescue team and several kayak rescue training exercises. The flight crews were of a certain type – Calm, unflappable, professional, skilful, and darkly funny. If you ever actually had to pull the pin on the EPIRB you knew that they would, if it was superhumanly possible, come and get you. And they wouldn’t ask for your credit card.

Now it’s over. After 70 years of heroic work, we will never again see anything with roundels on that could come and get you. Is there anyone….anyone at all (apart from accountants and Bristow shareholders), who think this is a good idea? Hey ho….

I know that many of the RAF/Navy pilots will transfer to the private contractor who will take over the SAR roll and I respect their proffesionalism and skill. I know that the new choppers have twice the range and endurance etc. But it’s very hard to believe that their rules of engagement will not be subtly different. You can’t help feeling that the priority will be adjusted from “do your utmost to get them” to “make sure that you bring that helicopter back”. I may be wrong. Of course, if it’s too wild for a new S92 or AW198, then as a kayaker I know that I really shouldn’t be out there at all. So I expect never to experience the difference. But still….

Last Thursday, I paddled my sea kayak out from Connel into the teeth of a force 4 wind with snow flurries, in the hope of seeing their final flypast and with the intention of saluting them – a minuscule gesture of thanks for all those years of skill and courage. I was very lucky. They flew right over me twice on the way into and out of refuelling at Connel Airport.

Maybe I’m falling into the nostalgia trap. Maybe I’ve just become an old git. But honestly, as that last stately old Sea King flew away across a hole in the clouds, for reasons I can’t explain, I found myself in tears