Home at last! HMS Illustrious returns to Portsmouth today

A Merlin helicopter from Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose has been training with HMS Queen Elizabeth in Portsmouth Naval Base as part of her Rotary Wing Trials

Helicopter puts flight deck crew through its paces

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Sailors who spend the holidays away from their families are due to arrive back in Portsmouth today to a heroes’ welcome.

The Royal Navy’s helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious is due to sail into the city after those on board missed Christmas and the new year with their families to help in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

HMS Illustrious

HMS Illustrious

Her ship’s company were operating in the Gulf when they were diverted to the Philippines to relieve Portsmouth-based Type 45 destroyer HMS Daring which was one of the first on the scene to offer aid.

Illustrious and her 650 crew then spent three weeks delivering emergency aid supplies and repairing broken infrastructure.

The carrier is due to pass the Round Tower in Old Portsmouth at 12.25pm today.

Captain Mike Utley, the ship’s commanding officer, said: ‘Our capabilities perfectly matched what was required in the Philippines.

‘We were able to get to where we were needed quickly and our size and flexibility meant we could store and distribute extremely large volumes of emergency aid supplies.

‘The people in the Philippines are extremely resilient, but it was clear to me that those in the worst-hit areas had been through a lot.

‘We believe we set in excess of 40,000 people firmly on the road to recovery.’

Today’s homecoming will not be the helicopter carrier’s last before she is decommissioned later this year.

The warship will undergo a period of maintenance in Portsmouth before deploying again.

Able Seaman Emma Whitty joined the ship only two days before it left Portsmouth for her first deployment since joining the navy 14 months ago.

The 22-year-old, from Fareham, said: ‘We’re all pleased to be home.

‘Being away for Christmas and the new year was tough on our families. Both of my parents were in the Royal Navy though and they understand.

‘We’ve got a lot of catching up to do after what we hope will be a very special homecoming.’