The red-grey helicopters of the Ace of Clubs squadron stood down from search and rescue duties on New Year’s Day, when civilian firm Bristow assumed the mantle of flying lifesavers on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

It’s been something of a long goodbye for the squadron; they carried out a farewell flypast last spring, hosted a string of media in the autumn as interest in the end of military search and rescue increased, hosted a farewell dinner for rescuers past and present – and rescuees, including Duran Duran singer Simon Le Bon, saved from his capsized yacht in 1985 – dropped in on schools and appeared in a few documentaries.

The head of the Fleet Air Arm, Rear Admiral Keith Blount, told the air and ground crew mustered in the hangar that they and their squadron had made “a huge impact across the South West.  The personnel and their famous ‘Ace of Clubs’ helicopters will never be forgotten. They have saved an innumerable amount of lives, and they will take the Squadron ethos, Non Noblus Solum – Not Unto us Alone – wherever they go.”

At the end of the ceremony, Lt Cdr Calhaem asked the Admiral for permission to ‘Decommission the Squadron’. He reluctantly agreed and the Navy’s standard was hauled down as the band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines struck up.

“It’s a sad day, very sad day, but in the end, you have to move on in life,” said engineer AET Simon Cataldo, who’s spent nearly three years maintaining the Sea Kings – some of the airframes are 45 years old – ready for scrambles.

Lt Cdr Calhaem – who was on duty for the final 24 hours of SAR missions at the beginning of the year – added: “771’s been a fantastic squadron, around for a long time, responsible for saving a lot of people over the years. This is a sad day – very much the end of an era.”

Culdrose will continue to train crews in search and rescue as it is an essential skill for aviation at sea.

RNAS Culdrose

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