Portsmouth bids a fond farewell to the navy's iconic '˜Land Rovers' of the skies

PEOPLE looked up at the sky in appreciation yesterday as a fleet of the Royal Navy's iconic search and rescue helicopters soared overhead for the final time.

Tuesday, 22nd March 2016, 10:53 am
Updated Tuesday, 22nd March 2016, 11:06 am
Sea Kings fly over Portsmouth Picture: Sarah Standing (160529-8449)

A formation of five Sea King Mk4s, accompanied by a Merlin helicopter, flew over Portsmouth as part of a farewell tour of the region.

The flypast by 848 Naval Air Squadron was the last chance for the aircraft to take to the sky before they are decommissioned later this month.

The helicopters flew over parts of Gosport and Lee-on-the-Solent before soaring low over Portsmouth Harbour and HMS Excellent on Whale Island.

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They also visited Poole, Plymouth, Okehampton, Bristol and Glastonbury.

Commander David Mahony, aviation chief of staff at Navy Command, Portsmouth, said: ‘It was a stirring moment to see the Sea Kings of 848 NAS flying past Navy Command this morning while on their final farewell.

‘They are an iconic aircraft that have seen action on operations for more than three decades.

‘Proof of the esteem that people hold them in was the large turnout from hundreds of people on Whale Island that was hopefully mirrored across the south west.’

The green helicopters have carried Royal Marines into action for more than 36 years.

They’ve served as key search-and-rescue helicopters.

Commander Gavin Simmonite is the final commanding officer of 848 Naval Air Squadron. He said: ‘It’s such a great, iconic aircraft.

‘It’s like owning an old, classic car – you start to bond with it.’

He has flown more than 2,000 hours in the Sea King, receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross for ‘exceptional airmanship’ in Afghanistan in 2009 when his helicopter was peppered with small arms fire; one bullet sliced through all but one of the strands on the control cable for the tail rotor.

‘We’ve worked the Sea King really hard in some harsh environments – 21 years on continuous operations,’ he said.

‘Most people think that if you are going to get any scrapes, a Sea King will get you out of them.’

His squadron formally decommissions later this week.

The Sea King’s replacement will be the battlefield Merlin Mk3.

A small number of Sea Kings will continue to operate from Culdrose, conducting reconnaissance and surveillance missions until 2018.