Lowestoft Coast Sea Drill Exercise

As part of their continuous training, aircrew from RAF Marham recently took part in a sea drill exercise off the Lowestoft Coast. These training exercises are held throughout the year with aircrew completing a sea drill session every other year.

The training not only tests the aircrew but also gives personnel from the Survival Equipment Section the opportunity to check the drill equipment and processes which, in turn, gives the aircrew the confidence that the life saving equipment will do its job in an emergency situation.

With the equipment and personnel loaded the boat set off out to sea, approximately a mile and a half from the coastline. This occasion was particularly poignant for one of the members, Sqn Ldr ‘Dickie’ James as he took charge as the ‘Survive Evade Resist Extract’ (SERE) Officer for the very last time. His job was to oversee the drill ensuring that all the procedures were executed correctly maximising the training opportunity. He couldn’t have asked for a better day as it was on one of the hottest days of the year and the sea was like a mill pond.

As the Health and Safety brief was concluded the boat cut engines and came to a halt in the middle of the sea and the civilian crew, many of them ex-service personnel, launched the RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) from the back of the boat. The RIB stays in the water for the duration of the drill to assist the aircrew should they require it.

The aircrew were then harnessed up individually with their Personal Survival Pack (PSP) connected to them. The PSP contains all the life saving equipment that they need to survive should they have to eject. With all the equipment in place and a final brief from the SERE Officer the aircrew entered the water one at a time. To simulate the effect of being attached to a parachute the aircrew were pulled behind the boat for a short distance before releasing themselves from the harness. The PSP comes into play as the dinghy contained within it inflates and the aircrew pull themselves out of the water.

With all 10 aircrew in the water bobbing around in their orange dinghies everyone looked out to the horizon to see the welcome sight of the yellow helicopter of 22 Sqn Search and Rescue from RAF Wattisham. The helicopter located the aircrew and the winchman was lowered to pick them up and bring them aboard the helicopter. Once 3 of the aircrew had been picked up, the helicopter made its way to the boat and the aircrew were winched back on board. The helicopter then returned to pick up a further 3 aircrew before having to return to Wattisham. The remainder of the aircrew were recovered by the RIB and returned to the boat.

Once on board the aircrew received a de-brief from Sqn Ldr James and the Survival Equipment personnel set to work packing away all the equipment. The boat headed back to shore for some well earned fish and chips.

As the sun glistened on the water Sqn Ldr James looked out to sea across the boughs of the boat and reflected on the sea drills that he had conducted over the last two decades and the dozens of aircrew that he had trained. Sqn Ldr James said “Having been an RAF survival instructor for over 21 years, it was a sad day to conduct my last ever sea survival drill”.

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