Cdr Vic Sirett First Night Helicopter Rescue

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Cdr Vic Sirett, born August 4, 1933, died March 31, 2013

Commander Vic Sirett, who died aged 79, saved two lives in the first night-time helicopter Search And Rescue operation and later introduced the Sea King helicopter into service.

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Wessex ’07’ from HMS Ark Royal (IV)


Wessex ’03’ from HMS Ark Royal (IV)

On the night of November 29, 1963, Sirett was airborne in the Indian Ocean in a Wessex helicopter of 815 Naval Air Squadron when a Sea Vixen jet fighter-bomber from the carrier HMS Ark Royal suffered engine failure and the pilot reported that he and his navigator were ditching.


Sea Vixen launches from HMS Ark Royal (IV)

Within a few minutes Sirett heard the sound of an emergency beacon being transmitted from a personal survival set, and followed the signal across the dark surface of the sea. After ten minutes he saw a flare and spotted the Sea Vixen’s navigator sitting in a dinghy, but repeated attempts to persuade him to leave the dinghy, which was being washed away by the downdraft of the helicopter’s blades, were unsuccessful. Then Sirett heard another weaker, more distant signal and, marking the position of the dinghy with white smoke for the frigate HMS Rothesay to spot, he began a second search.


HMS Ark Royal (IV)

With little to guide him, Sirett moved forward for about a mile until he suddenly saw the tiny light on the jet pilot’s life jacket. The pilot was floating in the water and was by now exhausted, but Sirett.s winchman plucked him out of the water and they returned safely to the carrier.

Sirett was awarded a rare Green Endorsement in his flying logbook by the Flag Officer Aircraft Carriers for his excellent airmanship and for completing the first ever night rescue by a carrier-borne helicopter.


The T-6 Texan trainer

Victor George Sirett was born on August 4, 1933 at Hythe, Kent, the son of a submarine artificer in the Second World War. On leaving Harvey Grammer School, Hythe, Vic joined the Royal Navy, learning to fly in Florida.


WWII Seafire


Late model Seafire






Gannet launching from HMS Ark Royal (IV)

At first he flew fixed-wing, propeller aircraft, including Seafire, Avengers, Fireflies and Gannets, but in the late 1950s he converted to helicopters.

From 1965 to 1967 he flew on loan service with the US Navy at Key West, Florida, and in December 1966 was awarded a “winged dagger” for rescuing from the Gulf of Mexico two USAF pilots who had suffered a mid-air collision. In May, 1967, he was awarded a second winged dagger for rescuing a US Navy Phantom pilot from the sea off the Florida Keys.

Having returned to Britain on October 9, 1969 Sirett established a new – and so far unbeaten – record for a helicopter flight from Land’s End to John O’Groats, of four hours 19 minutes and 19 seconds.


Sea King formation flypast HMS Ark Royal (IV)

Christmas Card copy

Sea King recently displaying at National Maritime Museum Cornwall

In 1969-1970 he commanded 700 Naval Air Squadron which introduced into the Service the Sea King helicopter, which would become the mainstay of the RN and RAF for more than 40 years. In recognition of this achievement, his squadron was awarded the Boyd Trophy, given annually for “the finest feat of naval aviation in the previous year”. Next, he commanded a training squadron in which aircrew and engineers were taught to fly and maintain the Sea King.

Promoted to Commander, Sirett held several key aviation staff appointments and in 1982 he was on the staff at the Royal Naval Air station, Yeovillton, where he proudly helped the men he had trained and the machines, which he had brought into service, to prepare for war service in the Liberation of the Falkland Islands.

When he retired in 1984 he had flown every type of British military helicopter, had 4,641 flying hours in his logbook, and hundreds of deck landings by day and by night. He was appointed OBE.

Sirett married Ruth Ann Bailey, who as a WRNS had played the role of a survivor in the Solent when Sireet was conducting winching trails. When he landed her after a sortie, he told her “We must stop meeting like this.” She survives him with their two sons.

Cdr Vic Sirett, born August 4, 1933, died March 31, 2013

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