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Culdrose to join fight against coronavirus

Culdrose to join fight against coronavirus

Published by Sarah Yeoman at 6:54am 2nd April 2020.

Helicopters from a Navy base in Cornwall are joining the fight against coronavirus.

Merlin choppers from RNAS Culdrose - which are typically used for submarine-hunting - will act as flying ambulances and transporters.

The Helston-based crew will fly supplies and personnel across Cornwall and the south west amid the pandemic.

It means they can provide round-the-clock support to the NHS and South Western Ambulance Service.

Three Merlin Mk2 helicopters and their crews from 820 Naval Air Squadron have been set aside for the task.

Culdrose coronavirus

They will not only have their own engineers and technicians, but will also be aided by the entire support network at the Helston airbase including medics, air traffic controllers, safety and logistic experts.

The submarine-hunting equipment which normally fills the helicopters’ cabins has been stripped out so the Merlins can carry several stretchers, passengers and stores quickly, smoothly and efficiently over long distances.

“This is very different from our ordinary role, but jobs like this are in our DNA. We are helping out the nation and the National Health Service during these testing times – it’s a real moment for everyone to pull together.

“It demands a real team effort for us here at Culdrose in terms of getting the aircraft and the crews ready, getting all the logistical support in place – providing air traffic controllers, meteorological information, so that we can operate 24 hours a day.”

Commander Chris ‘Grassy’ Knowles, 820’s Commanding Officer

Commander Knowles said efforts had been made to protect crews – “and the whole Culdrose family” from the risk of infection, following medical guidelines for isolating patients and decontaminating the helicopters, equipment and uniforms. 

His air and ground crew will be working 12-hour shifts to be able to respond to the pandemic, carrying NHS paramedics with patients when required.

This is the second time in five years the squadron has been called upon to help during a medical emergency. Its helicopters supported the UK’s response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa over the winter of 2014-15.

Culdrose coronavirus

At the same time as supporting civilian authorities, Culdrose’s Merlin Force will continue their usual duties; protecting UK waters and safeguarding the strategic nuclear deterrent.

“We are very aware that we have an important role to play in supporting the nation at this difficult time; we will make every effort to provide this contribution and make a difference in our region.

“We train our people to do this type of task all of the time; it is something that they all have the skills to deliver at sea and on land.”

Commander James Hall, in charge of the Maritime Merlin Force

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