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Army Helicopters Head Home From The Philippines


5:22am 24th December 2013

North Yorkshire crews of Army Lynx helicopters have begun their journey home after helping in the international disaster relief effort in the Philippines.

659 Squadron of 9 Regiment Army Air Corps (AAC), normally based at Dishforth, have been embarked in HMS Illustrious, the Royal Navy’s amphibious helicopter carrier, delivering humanitarian relief in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. 

The three Lynx helicopters played a crucial role in assessing the damage to allow focused aid distribution. The helicopters were used to recce the damage sustained, and subsequently deliver supplies of food and reconstruction material as well as teams of engineers and medics to remote island communities who were in dire need of assistance.

This was the first Humanitarian and Disaster Relief Operation that any of the men and women in the North Yorkshire based squadron had been involved in. The 49 strong detachment includes a mix of AAC personnel and Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. They worked around the clock alongside Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel during the four week operation for which helicopters were a key enabler. 

A vital element of Operation Patwin were advanced teams placed on the ground to clear sites to allow the aircraft to land. Sergeant Matt Jones (32) from North Yorkshire is one of 659 Squadron’s Helicopter Handling Instructors. He went ashore in one of these advanced teams. He said: “Operation Patwin was a challenging area of operations for us, given the nature of the terrain and the condition of the villages. The aircrew had to be very careful where they could land due to the amount of debris on the ground and the vulnerability of those houses still standing to the aircraft’s downwash.”

“Fortunately, the size of the Lynx helicopter allowed us to reach areas and communities that other aircraft could not access, and therefore may have otherwise been left without assistance. The relief and thanks on the faces of the locals when we arrived to help, was absolutely amazing to see and worth every effort of ours.”

The Officer Commanding 659 Squadron is Major Hannah Hayward (35) from Yorkshire. She said: “I am incredibly proud of what my Squadron has achieved over the last month and how well everyone responded to the extension of our time at sea in order to conduct Operation Patwin.” 

“All elements, from the engineers providing exceptional serviceability to allow the aircrew to fly triple our normal rate of hours, to the ground crew sweltering in the heat on the flight deck all day to ensure the aircraft were refuelled and loaded with the correct teams and stores, have performed exceptionally.”

“We are very fortunate to have been a part of something so worthwhile and to really feel that we have made a difference to the lives of those so badly affected by the typhoon.”

HMS Illustrious, along with three Lynx helicopters from 659 Squadron, 9 Regiment Army Air Corps and other elements of Response Force Task Group (RFTG), left the UK in August 13. They commenced Exercise Cougar 13, a four-month deployment operating in the Mediterranean, Red Sea, the Gulf, and Horn of Africa before she was re-tasked to sail to assist in the Philippines.

During Exercise Albanian Lion in August, an engine oil pressure failure grounded one of the Lynx aircraft ashore whilst conducting troop moves of elements of 42 Commando Royal Marines. This resulted in the need to conduct an engine change at an austere Forward Operating Base. 

Staff Sergeant Richard Burchell (35) and Sergeant Philip Marangon (32) of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers attached to 659 Squadron based at Dishforth were flown ashore as part of a four man “down bird” team.

They worked for 12 hours through the night with little support, limited resources and only head-torches for light, to ensure the aircraft was ready for a flight-test by dawn. HMS Illustrious had already postponed departure from Albania until the following day. Any further delay would have had a serious operational impact.

For their exceptional performance, Richard and Philip were awarded a Master General REME Commendation presented by Captain Mike Utley, Royal Navy, the Commanding Officer of HMS Illustrious. However, the presentation of the award had to wait until “Lusty” and 659 Squadron had completed Operation Patwin.

Once this had finished, several members of 659 Squadron returned home just in time for Christmas, leaving a skeleton staff embarked in HMS Illustrious for the journey home. HMS Illustrious is due to return to Portsmouth in early January.

The RFTG is the United Kingdom’s high readiness maritime force, comprising ships, submarines, aircraft and a landing force of Royal Marines, at short notice to act in response to any contingency tasking if required.

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