A new series of Helicopter Rescue lands on BBC One Wales on 8 April and viewers will be able to experience the drama and suspense of thrilling rescue footage featuring the RAF Search and Rescue Force.
Following a first series broadcast in 2012, the programme team gained exclusive access to follow the crews based at RAF Valley on Anglesey and RMB Chivenor in Devon, and among the new faces on this series is Prince William – HRH The Duke of Cambridge, or Flt Lt Wales as he’s known within the RAF.
Helicopter Rescue is the first TV series to show extensive footage of Flt Lt Wales’s working life in the RAF, as he and his fellow Search and Rescue colleagues strive to bring casualties to safety.
In one of the rescues featured on the first programme, Flt Lt Wales is the aircraft captain as the crew is called to an old slate quarry in Blaenau Ffestiniog. A local boy has fallen dangerously off an old railway bridge onto rocks. He describes his role once the call comes in: “As captain you’re trying to play out the entire rescue, the transit to the rescue and back again in your mind, and pick up any circumstances or problems you can foresee, and try and fix them on the ground before you get airborne.”
Each one of the four-member team has a specific role to play. Winchman and paramedic Master Aircrewman Richard Taylor describes just how treacherous rescue work can be, as a decision is made that they should winch the casualty on board the helicopter on a stretcher: “It’s a challenging procedure,” he says, “and inherently dangerous to put a man on a very thin piece of wire, hanging underneath nine tons of helicopter that’s susceptible to turbulence and problems itself, and may have to fly away.”
Along the coastline and up in the mountains of Wales, the RAF’s iconic yellow Sea King helicopters are a familiar and comforting sight. Last year, the two RAF Search and Rescue bases covering Wales were scrambled 566 times, making them the busiest in Britain, with more than 470 people being rescued. This series follows the RAF’s duty search and rescue crews from Valley and Chivenor as they are scrambled to locations across the country against a backdrop of stunning views of the Welsh landscape.
As well as dramatic footage of rescues, the programmes feature revealing interviews with crew members as they describe how they deal with challenging and often harrowing situations. In one programme, winchman Sergeant Ed Griffiths from Nefyn puts his life on the line as he battles atrocious conditions to rescue four students stuck on a ledge in deep snow on Tryfan in the Ogwen Valley.
“You do get scared at times,” Ed Griffiths admits on the programme. “It was one of the trickier rescues that I’ve done. They were icy, snowy conditions – ice with fresh snow packed on top. We didn’t have the option of escaping into the cloud because the helicopter would have just frozen up and potentially dropped out of the sky…”
We also see how the crews live, eat and work closely together when on their 24-hour shifts, and members of the force describe how that leads to a special bond between them.
“We cannot do a job that is as intellectually, physically and sometimes emotionally demanding as this without bonding to people,” says Wg Cdr Mark Dunlop, the officer commanding 22 Squadron.
Reflecting on the pressures of the Search and Rescue Force’s work, Flt Lt Wales admits during the series that their role is also a source of immense pride: “There’s no greater feeling than when you’ve actually done some good and saved someone’s life. I don’t think there’s any greater calling in life… to be able to see a son or daughter’s face when you bring their mother or father back from the edge of death – it’s quite powerful.”