Video of Heli Landing in Dense Fog Likely Shows Elite Joint 658 Squadron Helicopter Unit.
A video of a helicopter flying incredibly low over a fog shrouded road that was shot two days ago in Kirkstone Pass in the English Lake District of County Cumbria has been featured in nearly every European news media. It will likely make the rounds in the U.S. also as the time zone catches up. But most media sharing the viral video have likely identified the aircraft and its operators incorrectly.
Most news media who have shared the video have said the blue helicopter may be a British “SAS” or Special Air Service helicopter. And while there may be some degree of accuracy to the assumption that the SAS is involved in the flight, it is more likely the helicopter flying in unbelievably bad weather through the mountains belongs to someone else entirely.
The video appears to have been shot from a family car dash cam since the camera is static and very close to the vehicle windshield. It may also have been a smartphone video since, remember U.S. readers, in UK the passenger sits on the left side of the vehicle and the driver on the right.
Whichever way the video was shot, the videographer, identified in the BBC North West use of the video as “Brian Weatherall”, sees the aircraft emerge out of the fog on his left near a stone wall and appear to begin to flare for a landing next to the road. It’s pretty dramatic, and one can only imagine it is even more dramatic from the helicopter pilot’s perspective.
It’s likely the helicopter in the video is a Eurocopter AS365N3 Dauphin II, nicknamed “Blue Thunder” by the British tabloids, that belongs to the Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing (JSFAW). Specifically, the unit flying the aircraft is probably the 658 Squadron based at SAS HQ at Credenhill, near Hereford. The elite aviation unit was previously known as 8 Flight AAC until September 2013. This unit supports the British 22nd Special Air Service (22 SAS).
The 658 Squadron is roughly comparable in mission to the U.S. Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (160th SOAR). The 160th SOAR support U.S. special operations for the Navy SEALs, Army Rangers and Army Special Forces. They are commonly assumed to have flown the still secret “stealth hawk” helicopter used in Operation Neptune Spear, the 2011 raid to capture Osama Bin Laden.
If the helicopter is an AS365N3 from 658 Squadron, the more interesting question is, what was it doing flying so low so close to a public road? In general, special operations helicopters maintain a low profile and avoid exercises where they may wind up in a viral social media video. Some factors that may cause one to operate close to civilian roads may include things like a rescue flight for personnel injured during training or participation in a civilian emergency mission. It’s also possible the aircraft is conducting an insertion or extraction of forces on a training exercise in the area, possibly even on the road as we’ve seen with videos of special forces helicopters stopping vehicles on roads in the Middle East.
Whatever the case may be with the aircraft in the video, the color livery of the helicopter, the fact that it is flying in very difficult conditions and the proximity to special forces training areas all support the argument that it is a 658 Squadron aircraft. That makes this video very special, and a truly marvelous catch for Mr. Brian Weatherall.
Top image: screenshot from Brian Weatherall video via BBC