The Navy’s last three Sea King helicopters made their final flight today, marking the end of 35 years of service.
The flight also marked the end of the line for Nowra based 817 Squadron, which will stand down with a formal ceremony on Friday after 48 years continual service.
The Sea Kings’ ceremonial final flight took off from the HMAS Albatross in Nowra on Thursday morning, flying over Sydney Harbour and on to Canberra before returning to Nowra.
Sea Kings entered RAN service in 1975 and have flown more than 60,000 hours as the Navy’s workhorse helicopter. In all, the Navy operated 13 Sea Kings, losing seven in a variety of incidents. The Sea King is being replaced by the Eurocopter MRH 90 Multi-Role Helicopter, which is also being used to replace Army’s fleet of Black Hawks.
817 Squadron Commander Paul Moggach said the final flight marked an emotional day.
“It’s such a wonderful aircraft,” Moggach told The Canberra Times. “It has been a great servant to the navy and Australia over the years.”
The Sea King has seen service in a wide variety of environments ranging from combat operations in Iraq and East Timor to disaster relief efforts. At home, Sea Kings took part in massive fire fighting efforts during the raging bush fires west of Sydney in 1994, rescued boat crews from disastrous weather during the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, and lent a hand during flood relief efforts in southwest Queensland last year. As recently as May, a Sea King rescued a climber stranded on Lord Howe Island.
The saddest day for the helicopter came on April 2 2005, when Sea King Shark 02 crashed on the Indonesian island of Nias during a humanitarian assistance mission, killing nine defence personnel. That incident led to a review of naval aviation and contributed to the decision to retire the Sea King in favour of the MRH 90.
The personnel killed in the 2005 crash will be honoured in a memorial as part of the permanent display of Sea King Shark 07 at the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Nowra.