THE ROYAL Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) has retired its three distinctive yellow Agusta-Bell 412SP search and rescue (SAR) helicopters. They officially ended SAR operations on January 1. The unit operating them, Defence Helicopter Command’s 303 Squadron at Leeuwarden Air Base, will officially disband tomorrow, Thursday January 15. The helicopters will now be disposed of and it is understood that an agreement has been reached to sell all three to the Peruvian Navy.
During the course of 2014, the three helicopters were deployed over 230 times for carrying out medical transport and SAR tasks for missing persons. In total, 303 Squadron helicopters made almost 5,500 life-saving and emergency sorties. The SAR unit had originally been formed in March 1959 at Ypenburg Air Base, initially only being tasked with providing a SAR capability for military pilots at sea. The AB412s are being divested due to the introduction of the new NH90 maritime helicopter, although its entry into service has been somewhat troublesome due to unexpectedly high corrosion issues identified when operating at sea. These problems are now being resolved and deliveries, which had been on hold since June last year, have now been resumed.
The Netherlands Defence organisation became responsible for medical evacuations from the Frisian Wadden Islands because the surplus capability of the AB412 SAR helicopters offered the option of carrying out the evacuations without additional costs. This capacity will no longer be available now that the AB412s have been retired. The Defence organisation will nevertheless remain responsible for medical evacuations until an alternative has been found. As an interim measure, two RNLAF Cougar transport helicopters, belonging to 300 Squadron, will be deployed from Leeuwarden Air Base, allowing Defence to guarantee medical evacuations for the islands until another party is given the task.
Noordzee Helikopters Vlaanderen (NHV) took over the AB412’s SAR tasks from New Year’s Day. These tasks usually involve searching for and rescuing persons missing at sea and carrying out evacuations on ships and oil rigs located in the North Sea. NHV has been carrying out nocturnal SAR operations for the Netherlands Defence organisation since July 2011. The AB412 was not suitable for night operations due to its lack of night-vision equipment. Alan Warnes