A Search and Rescue Sea King helicopter touched down at Chivenor for the last time yesterday, as 74 years of life-saving came to an end.
The last official duty was carried out by Officer Commanding 22 Squadron, Wing Commander 'Sparky' Dunlop, shortly after the crew returned from their final operation – to transport a patient from Ilfracombe beach to hospital in Swansea.
Chivenor is the last of the RAF's six Search and Rescue bases to hand over responsibility for helicopter Search and Rescue to Bristow Helicopters Ltd. It was manned by personnel from 22 Squadron, based at RAF Valley, which marks its centenary year this month, shortly before being disbanded.
Group Captain Steve Bentley, RAF Search and Rescue Force Commander for the UK, said: "It is with enormous pride that we can reflect on the RAF's life-saving achievements since rescue operations began in 1941. Thousands of lives have been saved and individuals reunited with their loved ones through rescue missions often flown in the most difficult and extreme conditions.
"This continuous operational standby commitment has been delivered day-to-day across eight decades through the dedicated, selfless commitment and the determined pursuit of the highest professional standard of our aircrew, engineers and support staff."
No. 22 Squadron was formed at Fort Grange, Gosport, on September 1, 1915, and departed for France seven months later on reconnaissance duties. Just prior to the Second World War, the Squadron was reformed as a torpedo unit equipped with Vickers Vildebeests.
Following the outbreak of war, the Vildebeests flew anti-submarine patrols and continued into 1940 with Beauforts. In 1942, the Squadron were posted to the Far East and tasked with undertaking anti-shipping rocket attacks with Beaufighter aircraft. A month after the Japanese surrender, the Squadron was disbanded.
It reformed in 1955 as a Search and Rescue unit, equipped with Whirlwinds before moving on to Wessex helicopters. The Sea Kings were received in the mid-1990s and continued in service until their final mission yesterday.