Portsmouth Navy helicopter engineers face Himalayan challenge

Topic: Fighting armsFleet Air Arm Storyline: Fleet Air Arm

A team of 14 military aircraft engineers from Portsmouth hit the peaks and passes of Snowdonia to prepare for an expedition in the Himalayas.

Personnel from 1710 Naval Air Squadron – a specialist unit in Portsmouth Naval Base which provides engineer support for all the UK Armed Forces’ helicopter fleet – plan to tackle three passes, all above 17,500ft (5360m).

They hope the adventurous training expedition to what is known as the Three Passes Trail will help them work even more closely together and deal with living/working in the most challenging of environments.

The engineers are frequently called upon to deploy around the globe to conduct repairs/assist recovery of unserviceable Fleet Air Arm, RAF and Army Air Corps helicopters – the sands of the Middle East, the snow-covered mountains of the Norwegian Arctic or the temperate surroundings of the UK.

In Nepal they’ll face temperatures potentially as low as -20 Celsius as they tackle the Kongma La (5,500m), Cho La (5,420m) and Renjo La (5,360m) passes which make up the trail.

All are well above the point where the risk of altitude sickness is a danger and so will have to acclimatise.

And recognising the unpredictable nature of high-altitude environments, the team has prioritised safety by ensuring that four members have completed comprehensive outdoor remote first aid courses. It means they have the skills to handle emergencies in remote locations, vital for the isolated and challenging landscapes they'll encounter during the expedition.

Lieutenant Jenna Clark, a repair officer with 1710 NAS, said she and her colleagues had planned the expedition thoroughly and prepared well for it with two weekends trekking in Wales to build up physical and mental endurance among the rugged mountains of Snowdonia.

She hopes the trek will imbue the team with confidence, leadership skills, team spirit and determination to face up to – and overcome – future challenges, but also provide a unique experience of Nepalese culture.

“As the departure date approaches, the camaraderie among the aircraft engineers is growing stronger, fuelled by shared experiences in Snowdonia and the collective pursuit of conquering the Three Passes Trail,” said.

“Our dedication to both professional excellence and outdoor adventure reflects a harmonious blend of skills that will undoubtedly contribute to our success in this awe-inspiring trek through the heart of the Nepalese Himalayas.”

It typically takes 17 days to cover the 103-mile trek, which begins and ends in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu.

The team’s only shelter will be a series of austere Nepalese ‘tea houses’ en route, accessible only on foot.