Skip to content
Recruiting now.Explore navy careers

Veteran aircrewman returns to Culdrose

15 March 2016
A decorated veteran Aircrewman who shot to national fame after conducting one the most dramatic Sea King Rescue missions ever, has paid a nostalgic visit back to Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose.

Celebrating 50th years since becoming a Royal Navy Aircrewman David Jackson AFM, wanted to see how things had changed at Culdrose since he left in 1983.

He has very fond memories of all of the squadrons he served on, but it was in January 1974 whilst on 706 Naval Air Squadron that he remembers the most.

David takes up the story, “The day started like many others at Culdrose with strong winds and everyone battening down the hatches because of the Gale force winds along the coast. 

David was personally instrumental in the saving of four lives.

“The call came in that a ship was in trouble near Plymouth and three Sea Kings from 706 & 824 were scrabbled to the ‘MV Merc Enterprise’ as well as two from the German Sea King training unit.

“We set for the Plymouth area to see what we could do to help. We arrived first and the waves were upwards between 70 – 100 feet high and the winds gusting up at 70 knots.”

Straight away David’s aircraft was in the thick of it and recovered the first survivor by a single lift, but owing to their exhausted state it was necessary to use the double lift harness for the others.

Undaunted by the conditions and increasing fatigue, David was personally instrumental in the saving of four lives.

For their bravery the three aircrewmen; POACMN David Fowles, Acting Aircrewman Adrian ‘Taff’ Williams and David were awarded an Air Force Medal (AFM). Two of the Pilots were also awarded the Air Force Cross.

“In total we recovered seven survivors, but unfortunately we had the grim task of picking up five bodies, out of a crew of 19.

“The rest were picked up by a Russia ship in the area. After the Merc Enterprise I received a lot of attention,” said David.

“I lived in a little village near Truro and people only knew me as David who worked at Culdrose.

“Then with all the publicity people said – ‘I didn’t know you did rescues as well’ - It’s not something you talk about in the pub and all of a sudden people got to know what I did.”

During his visit David spent time chatting with some the current Aircrewmen on 820 Naval Air Squadron and share his experiences with them, before being shown around the Merlin Mk 2 and his faithful Sea King.

“Coming back today has been marvellous; so much has changed and improved since my days here. I was surprised how long Aircrewmen train for, but seeing the Merlin Mk 2 I can understand why.

“Everything is so modern and computerised, I would certainly struggle today. Meeting with the 820 guys I can still see that same ethos and sense of humour we had.

“There is still a lot of pride in what they do and when given a job they do it pretty well.”

Related articles

Navy News Magazine

We bring you the latest news, features and award-winning photographs from the front-line. Navy News has been reporting on all that happens in the Royal Navy and its wider community since 1954.