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Merlin to the rescue

One of our helicopter crews put their training to the test today in the rescue of a crashed aircraft – well a crashed model aeroplane – which had become lodged on top of a Cornish mine chimney.

A few days before, the owner of the radio-controlled aeroplane watched in disbelief as his model aircraft hit the prominent Victorian landmark – the only structure of any height anywhere nearby.

Roger Bath, a member of the model aeroplane club RC Cornwall Flyers, said he was dumbfounded when his plane became stuck on the chimney next to their flying zone near Nancegollen, not far from Helston.

Mr Bath said: “I am a novice pilot anyway and last Sunday was windy. How the heck it got in the top of the chimney I don’t know. Even if you tried to get it in there you’d be banging into the sides. It was unbelievable.”
In desperation, club members got in touch with Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose on the off chance the navy could help.

And by luck, a search and rescue training sortie was already planned for this afternoon by 824 Naval Air Squadron, which trains Merlin helicopter crews.

In the afternoon, the Merlin circled the site before lowering Lieutenant Donell Fairweather on a winch line to the top of the chimney. He promptly grabbed the aircraft and was then lowered to the ground nearby, while the helicopter landed in a field next to the chimney.

Lieutenant Commander Steve Thomas, the senior pilot and instructor in command of the training flight, said: “We had a three and half hour training sortie booked for the afternoon and this was a genuinely valuable training opportunity for a student pilot who had been given an usual search and rescue scenario, and staff rear crew who had the task of conducting the rescue.

“The task was far from simple and we spent a great deal of time and effort planning and considering all possible options, plans and dangers. Everyone gets more out of doing something like this than they do just training at the airfield.”

Mr Bath and his fellow club members were delighted with the recovery and thanked the royal Navy crew for their dedication.

Navy aircrews at RNAS Culdrose regularly practice search and rescue training in the event of emergency incidents while they are deployed on warships.

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