Royal Navy helicopters have flown more than 10,000 miles over Sierra Leone in the fight against Ebola.
In their first month in West Africa, the Merlins of 820 Naval Air Squadron have covered the length and breadth of the small republic supporting Britain’s efforts on the ground to halt the spread of the disease.
Using support ship RFA Argus as their base, the three helicopters have spent more than nine days in the skies, over 210 hours, delivering supplies, food, stores and people.
Among the Merlins’ passengers during their first month in West Africa: Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma, who was flown to remote towns to allow him to spread the message on combating Ebola.
The 14-tonne helicopters, based at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall, are normally used for chasing down submarines, pirate and drug-runners.
For the mission in Sierra Leone, codenamed Operation Gritrock, the helicopters are effectively being used as ‘flying trucks’, slinging loads in huge nets beneath them containing several tonnes of desperately-needed aid.
They’ve flown three-dozen sorties to date in support of the British Government’s £230m effort to deal with the disease in Sierra Leone.
Six Ebola treatment centres are being set up by the UK with the goal of providing beds for more than 700 patients and medical care to around 8,800 people over six months.
In addition, the three helicopters have been flying supplies for the United Nations’ World Food Programme into the mountains in the heart of Sierra Leone to support its efforts against Ebola – a mission which was a few hours for the Merlins, but would have taken vehicles on the ground two days.
820 are just one element of a substantial commitment by the Naval Service to the Ebola mission. Argus also sailed from Falmouth carrying two landing craft, two RIBs and three Zodiac boats from 539 Assault Squadron Royal Marines.
Press release, Image: UK Navy