AN order by RAF chiefs to scrap a farewell party in honour of Moray’s search and rescue heroes has been described as "woeful" and a decision that "stinks to high heaven".
Crews from RAF Lossiemouth had planned a get-together next week for both past and present personnel, and for the many individuals who had been saved by the Sea King helicopters during their long and distinguished history in Moray.
The bash had been scheduled to take place in an Elgin bar on Thursday, the day after D Flight 202 Squadron at RAF Lossiemouth hands over search and rescue (SAR) responsibilities to a private company.
However, a written statement this week from Squadron Leader Stuart Reeks, the officer commanding D Flight, confirmed that the event had been cancelled.
It stated: "It is with utmost regret that I must inform you that D Flt has been ordered to cancel the event at the Drouthy Cobbler on April 2, 2015.
"Please be aware that we are still eternally grateful for all the support we have received from you over the decades, and we wish you all the best for the future."
An RAF spokesman said this week that the decision was made amid concerns that significant public interest in the event could conflict with ‘purdah’ – the period immediately before elections when the activity of civil servants is restricted.
Purdah typically begins six weeks before an election, with the period for the 2015 General Election beginning on Monday.
The iconic yellow Sea King helicopters will be permanently grounded on April 1, when the UK’s SAR contract becomes the responsibility of the Bristow Group, a private company which in 2013 won a 10-year contract to provide search and rescue services throughout the UK.
Under the contract, 20 helicopters will operate from 10 locations in the UK, including Inverness.
For more than 70 years, the RAF and Royal Navy have carried out search and rescue for civilians, with D Flight 202 Squadron operating from Lossiemouth since the 1970s.
The decision to cancel the social event has been slammed, and a number of people with links to the squadron and Sea Kings are adamant that they will head to The Drouthy Cobbler anyway.
Scores of comments have been posted on social media, while a petition has also been organised in an attempt to reverse the decision.
Dave ‘Heavy’ Whalley, who was a member of the RAF mountain rescue team for 36 years, said: "My opinion is that it was really a bit of an own goal by the MoD (Ministry of Defence) and no doubt I will not now be on the MoD party list.
"Such is life, but some things have to be said, and maybe it may give them a chance to rectify it for the other stations as they leave in the SAR drawdown by the military.
"To me this is a very sad day, and I find it woeful that the great yellow bird can leave without any acknowledgement. The men and women who worked and flew in them are incredible people."
A number of people with connections to D Flight contacted ‘The Northern Scot’, but wished to remain anonymous for fear of consequences.
One man said: "I do feel that there has been a decision somewhere to make the passing of the Sea King in as low key a fashion as possible, and I think the whole thing stinks to high heaven.
"D Flight at Lossie have a long and proud history of their time here, with many heroic acts, often flown in extreme conditions, and a great many people owe their lives to their presence.
"The end of the SAR flight at Lossie should be celebrated by a last flypast along the Moray coast with the RAF ensign flown proudly."
While he was unsure whether any serving members of the military would attend Thursday’s event in Elgin, he said he still expected a large gathering of former RAF personnel and civilians.
More on this story, and more reaction, in this week's 'Northern Scot' print edition