Magpie flies practises first aerial rescue

Naval aviators practised a rescue from one of the smallest vessels in the Fleet when they dropped in on survey ship HMS Magpie in the Solent.

Observer (navigator/weapons specialist) Lieutenant Commander ‘AJ’ Pearson was carefully lowered on to the tiny open deck area of Magpie by his fellow 824 Naval Air Squadron aircrew – the first time winching to and from the 18-metre-long craft has been attempted.

Magpie’s quarterdeck is little larger than the cockpit of a yacht – making it ideal for practising winching a casualty from a confined space.

Although the Royal Navy no longer maintains dedicated search and rescue squadrons – a service now provided by the Coastguard – its helicopter crews must maintain the ability, whether it involves saving a casualty from one of our warships such as an injured crew member aboard Magpie, plucking downed aviators out of the ocean, or responding to Maydays from civilian mariners wherever a British warship might be on patrol in the world.

824’s Commanding Officer Commander Martin ‘Leathers’ Russell

It’s testament to the hard work of our engineers and aircrew that we can achieve essential training opportunities like this whilst simultaneously being at readiness to support local authorities in the South West

Culdrose-based 824 trains the Fleet Air Arm’s two front-line Merlin Mk2 squadrons in the art of flying, operating and maintaining the world’s leading submarine-hunting helicopter.

“It’s testament to the hard work of our engineers and aircrew that we can achieve essential training opportunities like this whilst simultaneously being at readiness to support local authorities in the South West and train the next generation of Merlin Mk2 aircrew for the Royal Navy,” said 824’s Commanding Officer Commander Martin ‘Leathers’ Russell.

At the helm of Magpie was her Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander Mark White, who deftly manoeuvred his vessel in the face of a very powerful downblast from the rotors of the 14-tonne helicopter.

“This was absolutely a Magpie first,” he said. “It definitely gave us a salty wash down but we were able to hold course no problem despite the impressive downwash.”

After an extensive refit earlier this year in Cornwall, Devonport-based Magpie is conducting survey work in home waters.

Her size and the fact that she’s packed from bow to stern with leading-edge sonar and scanning equipment means she can survey inshore waters larger vessels in the Royal Navy’s Hydrographic and Survey Flotilla cannot – and in unparalleled detail, providing the most accurate mapping of ports, harbours and shipping lanes in home waters.