Navy Search and Rescue squadron to begin Olympic Flame's UK relay

The Olympic Flame is due to arrive at Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Culdrose tonight from where it will be carried in a Sea King helicopter to the start of the UK Torch Relay.

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) recently announced that a Royal Navy Search and Rescue squadron has been selected to transfer the Olympic Flame from RNAS Culdrose near Helston in Cornwall to Land's End tomorrow for the start of the UK Torch Relay.

The Olympic Flame is due to arrive at Culdrose this evening on board a British Airways, gold-liveried aircraft from Athens.

After an overnight stay at the Air Station, the Flame will be flown to Land's End by 771 Naval Air Squadron in a Sea King helicopter that has been used for many lifesaving missions across the South West.

Upon landing, one the four aircrew members will jump from the aircraft and carry the Olympic Flame to the start of the London 2012 Torch Relay, so that its momentous journey across the UK can begin.

The Olympic Flame will then travel 8,000 miles (12,875km) across the UK to within 10 miles (16km) of 95 per cent of the population. 8,000 Torchbearers will carry the Olympic Flame for approximately 300 metres each, passing the Olympic Flame from torch to torch until it reaches the Olympic Stadium on the evening of 27 July.

On call 24-hours-a-day, every day of the year, 771 Naval Air Squadron provides Search and Rescue cover across the South West of England. Squadron members fly around the Cornish coastline in their red and grey Sea King helicopters on daring rescue missions, saving the lives of people in some of the most hazardous conditions imaginable, often putting their own lives at risk.

At 15 minutes' notice by day and 45 minutes' by night (although they usually get airborne in less), the squadron is capable of operating within a 200-nautical-mile (370km) radius of Culdrose. They carry out over 200 rescues a year, ranging from long range medical evacuation from ships at sea and assistance to vessels in distress, to the safe recovery of stranded cliff-fallers, swimmers, divers and surfers.

771 Naval Air Squadron also helps with hospital-to-hospital transfers, road traffic accidents and aerial searches for missing people, but this is the first time it has carried a live flame as a passenger.

Because the Olympic Flame is classified as a symbolic flame, it is permitted to be carried on board an aircraft following special authorisation from the Civil Aviation Authority. The Flame will travel in a ceremonial lantern that is secured in a specially designed cradle which is, in turn, firmly fixed to its seat on the helicopter using a secure holding device. The lantern has been designed so the Olympic Flame can burn safely for the duration of the journey.

The very proud crew will be made up of:

Lieutenant Commander Martin Shepherd - pilot and Commanding Officer of 771 Naval Air Squadron

Lieutenant Chris Whittington - pilot

Lieutenant Commander Richard Full - observer

Corporal Justin Morgan - aircrewman.

Lieutenant Commander Full has been chosen as the member of the squadron who will carry the Flame to the start of the Torch Relay. He said:

"As an avid sportsman and a firm believer in the ethos of the Olympic Games, I am extremely proud and honoured to be invited to carry the Olympic Flame on its short journey from one of our Search and Rescue aircraft to the starting point for London 2012.

"This is most definitely a 'once-in-a-lifetime' opportunity as I doubt whether I, or many of my fellow West Country men and women, will see the Olympic Flame pass through their towns and villages again during their lifetimes."

Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose is home to most of the Navy's Merlin and Sea King helicopter squadrons. Personnel at the Air Station are extremely proud that their base has been chosen to not only receive the Olympic Flame, but to also help it on its onward journey.

Captain William Entwisle, Commanding Officer of Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose, said:

"We are honoured to be able to help the Olympic Flame at the start of its very special journey around the United Kingdom.

"Our personnel, be they part of the Search and Rescue squadron who will be giving the Olympic Flame a 'lift', those training for front line operations, or even those who are currently supporting the Royal Navy across the globe, are very proud that our Air Station has been chosen to play a part in the build-up to the London 2012 Olympic Games.

"We are delighted to be playing such an important role in this once-in-a-lifetime event."

Seb Coe, Chair of LOCOG, said:

"It is a fitting tribute to the hard work and bravery of the Search and Rescue squadron at RNAS Culdrose that they have been chosen to carry the Olympic Flame to Land's End for the start of the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay.

"The arrival by Sea King helicopter will be the first of many alternative modes of transport which will be used to carry the Flame as it makes its 70-day journey around the UK."