Koksijde SAR meet 2021

From 27 September until 1 October, the Belgische Luchtcomponent (Belgian Air Force) hosted the Galileo Search-and-Rescue (SAR) Meet 2021 at Koksijde Air Base. The base is the home of 40 Squadron, which is responsible for helicopter rescue operations off the Belgian coast.

The Belgian 40 Squadron has a tradition of organizing this SAR event. Nevertheless, the last edition dates back to October 2016. The transition of the Sea King rescue helicopter to the modern NH90 NFH, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, were the reasons for this break.

The International Search and Rescue Meet is an exercise in which search and rescue teams demonstrate their missions, assets, skills and procedures to one another. The aim of the exercise is to share experiences in order to learn lessons to make rescue operations even more efficient, safer and faster.

Initially the SAR meet was a pure military event, as Search-and Rescue was then only carried by air force and navy units. In recent years some governments have decided to privatize SAR duties and civil rescue helicopters are now invited too. The Airbus SA365N owned by Noordzee Helikopters Vlaanderen, which is responsible for SAR duties along the Dutch coast, was the only civil helicopter in the contest.

The 2021 edition was organized in close cooperation with Galileo, the Global Positioning System of the European Union. This satellite navigation system has been developed with funding by the European Union to secure the EU’s independence from the American GPS. On top of that Galileo has proven greater accuracy and speed over GPS. These factors are of utmost value during search-and-rescue operations. In fact it can save lives!

The event consisted of three components. It started with a symposium in which each nation presented its assets and procedures on 28 September. The next day two kinds of flying operations were performed by each crew: navigation in the morning and precision flying in the afternoon.

During the navigation practice, crews had to fly with specified speed on a specified course and regularly report their observations. During the precision flying contest, one crewmember had to be winched to the ground to provide instructions to the crew of the helicopter hovering above him.

And while being guided from the ground the crew had to maneuver a weight on the hoist cable between some obstacles. Next was to pick up and transport a basket of water and try to grab a ring which, when successful would ignite a flare. At the end of the exercise, the best team would receive the prestigious SAR-meet Trophy.

The flying operations on Wednesday 29 September had attracted a crowd of spotters and photographers from Belgium and several surrounding countries. The tickets for the event had, at the time, sold out quickly as the list of participating SAR teams had some real gems.

However, to the disappointment of many, the announced exotic helicopters like those from Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Slovenia and Sweden were absent. These countries only sent their observers to attend the meet.

Helicopter manufacturer Leonardo did present something special: they had arranged to bring in a brand new AW169 destined for Brazilian firefighters, the Bombeiros. It still carried its Italian test registration I-EASK, but was unfortunately hidden away in one of the hangars.

One of the hangars on the south side of the base contained two representatives of Koksijde’s long history of SAR operations: a slightly forlorn Sikorsky H-34 OT-ZKH with “The last one” special paint and Westland Sea King RS03. Obviously the 

The flying activities were concluded by the crew of the Czech Sokol W3. Their spirited display was warmly welcomed by the crowd and judging by the number of shutter clicks, many gigabytes of photos must have been taken when they were flying!


Flying from various locations South side:
0717 W-3A 243 vrl / 24 zDL Czech AF SARteam08
77+07 H145M THR 30 GAR SARteam02
89+63 Sea King Mk.41 MFG 5 GN SARteam09
0264 AW-101 Mk.612 330 Skv RNAF SARteam05
OO-NHM AS.365N3 NHV Civil B callsign

Parked / Flying from Hangar North side:
RN-03 NH90-NFH 40 Sm / 1 W BAC callsign
RN-04 NH90-NFH 40 Sm / 1 W BAC towed outside
PP-UBM/07 AW-169 (Leonardo) GOA CBMERJ Test reg. I-EASK

Parked / Flying from Hangar South side:
RN-02 NH90-NFH 40 Sm / 1 W BAC SARteam01
RS02 Sea King Mk.48 nn BAC Stored
RS04 Sea King Mk.48 nn BAC Stored

Parked Hangar South side:
RS03 Sea King Mk.48 nn BAC Stored
OT-ZKH H-34 Belgian Air Force Stored
P-7J Hunter F6 Belgian Air Force Stored

H-26 A-109BA 17 Sqn MRH / 1 W BAC Griffon433

Arrived on loader:
A-301 SA.316B nn RNLAF

Special thanks to Kurt Verwilligen (SAR meet organisation) and Rob Hendriks for the log above that he shared on our Scramble messageboard.

Photo I-AESK: Leonardo Helicopters. Other photos by Gert Jan Mentink

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