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Navy fliers give potential boost to tourism through search-and-rescue training in the Adriatic

21 November 2022
Royal Navy fliers have helped the tourist industry in the Adriatic by passing on their rescue skills to local aviators.

Crews from the Commando Helicopter Force and aviation support ship RFA Argus helped authorities in Montenegro enhance their search-and-rescue service with joint training at sea.

The commando fliers – who typically support Royal Marine operations around the globe – completed an exercise with the green berets in the NATO nation, switching focus to lifesaving drills at sea.

As one of the smallest countries in Europe (roughly the size of Northern Ireland with a population of 600,000, around half of them living in the capital Podgorica), Montenegro only has a small armed forces.

With a budget of €61m - £53m, or less than 1 per cent of UK military spending – there are just 2,500 personnel and a mere six aircraft. 

The crews of the latter are heavily engaged in the country’s mountains, rescuing climbers and walkers who’ve got into difficulty.

But Montenegro doesn’t possess a maritime search-and-rescue capability – and many cruise ships have been reluctant to visit as a result.

Search and rescue is no longer a primary function of naval aviators (operations around the UK ended in January 2016).

But given the nature of where the Royal Navy/Fleet Air Arm operate, it is an indispensable part of their bag of tricks. Indeed, among the core functions of Commando Helicopter Force is rescuing downed aircrew at sea or over land.

Being able to impart CHF’s search-and-rescue knowledge and procedures to our new NATO partner has been a been a real honour and a great experience.

Petty Officer Rich ‘Stocky’ Stock

Petty Officer Rich ‘Stocky’ Stock, aircrewman instructor with 845 Naval Air Squadron, led the way with his knowledge of saving lives at sea. 

Montenegrin aircrew began by learning the SAR basics in flights in the Merlin Mk4, operating to the flight deck of Argus out in the Adriatic.

They then progressed by doing the same, but this time in their own Bell 412.

And after Argus, the craft gradually got ever smaller, until they were rescuing ‘casualties’ from HMS Albion’s landing craft… or plucking a heavy, water-soaked dummy, from the Adriatic.

When Stocky and his colleagues were satisfied with the progress made, the Montengrin fliers laid on a demonstration for their president, Milo Đukanović, to show off their new skill set. 

“Being able to impart CHF’s search-and-rescue knowledge and procedures to our new NATO partner has been a been a real honour and a great experience,” said Stocky.

“I was truly blown away with the hospitality and receptiveness that they showed towards myself and the rest of the Tailored Air Group.”

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