Prince William’s fellow RAF Sea King airman wins payout after cancer is linked to helicopter fumes


Prince William’s fellow RAF Sea King airman has received a payout from the Ministry of Defence after his rare cancer was linked to toxic fumes from the helicopter.

Flight Sergeant Zach Stubbings, 42, from Cardiff, spent his 15-year RAF career inhaling the fumes from the now-retired aircraft’s powerful twin engines.

The MoD have been forced to admit that the fumes caused Flight Sergeant Stubbings’ bone marrow cancer, multiple myeloma, following a six-year legal battle.

Prince William also piloted the aircraft – which was first flown in 1969 – for three years while serving in the Royal Air Force Search and Rescue Force at RAF Valley, Anglesey. The two men are not believed to have flown together.

He carried out 156 search and rescue operations – saving 149 people – during his time there before leaving in 2013. The helicopter was retired from the RAF in 2018 the the last new Sea King produced in 1995.

The fume dangers highlighted by Flight Sergeant Stubbings’ legal bid will no doubt cause concern within the Royal Family.

RAF Sea King has also been linked to asbestos poisoning, after thousands of military engineers were feared to have inhaled the potentially fatal chemicals. 

Flight Sergeant Zach Stubbings, 42, (right) from Cardiff, spent his 15-years RAF career inhaling the fumes from the now-retired aircraft’s powerful twin engines

Prince William also piloted the aircraft (pictured at the controls of Sea King) for three years while serving in the Royal Air Force Search and Rescue Force at RAF Valley, Anglesey

The helicopter (pictured) was retired from the RAF in 2018 the the last new Sea King produced in 1995

The helicopter (pictured) was retired from the RAF in 2018 the the last new Sea King produced in 1995

Sea King helicopters linked to issues with fatal asbestos

Thousands of military engineers were feared to have inhaled potentially fatal asbestos chemicals while working on Britain’s Sea King helicopters.

In 2018, defence chiefs confirmed they had issued an alert in a desperate effort to warn Royal Navy and RAF personnel who have maintained the Sea King since it entered service in 1969.

In an unprecedented move, the Ministry of Defence has also contacted foreign governments that bought the helicopter and civilian contractors flying ex-British military Sea Kings.

Serving personnel or veterans with health problems caused by exposure to asbestos on Sea Kings were able to sue the MoD for hundreds of thousands of pounds. 

Flight Sergeant Stubbings uncovered documents from 1999 revealing that the MoD were warned of potential issues caused by Sea King fumes by experts.

But nothing was done to rectify the issue, The Sun reports. 

Flight Sergeant Stubbings told the paper: ‘The Government chose to ignore it. It’s a scandal.’ 

An MoD spokesperson said: ‘The health and safety of our personnel is of the utmost importance and we are committed to providing a safe working environment. 

‘Three studies undertaken by the RAF Centre of Aviation Medicine into Sea King found there were no definitive conclusions in terms of risk to health. 

‘RAF Sea King reached the end of service in 2016.’

In 2018, thousands of military engineers were feared to have inhaled potentially fatal asbestos chemicals while working on Britain’s Sea King helicopters.

Defence chiefs confirmed they had issued an alert in a desperate effort to warn Royal Navy and RAF personnel who have maintained the Sea King since it entered service in 1969.

In an unprecedented move, the Ministry of Defence has also contacted foreign governments that bought the helicopter and civilian contractors flying ex-British military Sea Kings.

Serving personnel or veterans with health problems caused by exposure to asbestos on Sea Kings were able to sue the MoD for hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The MoD have been forced to admit that the fumes caused Flight Sergeant Stubbings' (pictured) bone marrow cancer, multiple myeloma, following a six-year legal battle

The MoD have been forced to admit that the fumes caused Flight Sergeant Stubbings’ (pictured) bone marrow cancer, multiple myeloma, following a six-year legal battle

The fume dangers highlighted by Flight Sergeant Stubbings' legal bid will no doubt cause concern within the Royal Family (Prince William posing in front of a Sea King helicopter). RAF Sea King has also been linked to asbestos poisoning, after thousands of military engineers were feared to have inhaled the potentially fatal chemicals

The fume dangers highlighted by Flight Sergeant Stubbings’ legal bid will no doubt cause concern within the Royal Family (Prince William posing in front of a Sea King helicopter). RAF Sea King has also been linked to asbestos poisoning, after thousands of military engineers were feared to have inhaled the potentially fatal chemicals

Sea King crews are ‘frequently subjected’ to engine exhaust fumes, study finds

Sea King Rescue helicopter crews are frequently subjected to engine exhaust fumes, a 2018 study found.

Scientists investigated how much carbon monoxide (CO) pilots are exposed to – and whether they exhibit symptoms.

The research – carried out by University of California Professor Michael Busch – found that exposure to engine fumes is common but symptoms are rare and mild.

The study looked at 37 crew members’ CO levels over a two-week period. It found 64 per cent were exposed to engine exhaust fumes during training – but symptoms were seen in just 8.6 per cent.

Some 29 per cent had CO levels outside the normal range after their flight – with the highest recording standing at 7 per cent. 

The normal range is less than 4 per cent.

A 2018 study found that Sea King Rescue helicopter crews are frequently subjected to engine exhaust fumes.

Scientists investigated how much carbon monoxide (CO) pilots are exposed to – and whether they exhibit symptoms.

The research – carried out by University of California Professor Michael Busch – found that exposure to engine fumes is common, especially when crews are working near the open cargo doors.

But symptoms are rare and mild.

The study looked at 37 crew members’ CO levels over a two-week period. It found 64 per cent were exposed to engine exhaust fumes during training – but symptoms were seen in just 8.6 per cent.

These included exhaustion, headaches and nausea.

Some 29 per cent had CO levels outside the normal range after their flight – with the highest recording standing at 7 per cent. 

The normal range is less than 4 per cent. 

The study concluded:  ‘Exposure to engine fumes is common, even more so during open cargo door operations. 

‘However, clinical symptoms are infrequent and mild. 

‘Toxic SpCO levels were not reached in this study, but approximately one third of postflight SpCO levels were outside the normal range.’

History of the Sea King helicopter: When was its first flight and what replaced it?

The Sea King aircraft – known as the ‘Junglies’ as a nod to the historical role helicopter commando squadrons played in Borneo in the 1960s – was fully retired in 2018.

The first Westland-built Sea King helicopter flew on May 7 1969 at Yeovil. The last new Sea King was produced in 1995.

It used AVTUR(F34) fuel, a kerosine grade of aviation fuel suitable for most turbine-engined aircraft.

It is the most common military jet fuel grade available worldwide.

Dubbed the ‘Land Rover of the skies’ and the ‘Green Giants’ of the Fleet Air Arm, the Sea King has been in service with the Commando Helicopter Force since 1969.

In the RAF search and Rescue Force, the helicopters are painted yellow.

The green helicopters were used in the Falklands, Bosnia and Northern Ireland, and in Iraq and Afghanistan.  

As well as ferrying the green berets into action, the helicopters were used to deliver essential supplies, including field guns and Land Rovers, whenever needed.

Most recently they saw action in Iraq and were instrumental in the opening hours of the 2003 war with Saddam Hussein by landing Royal Marines on the Al Faw peninsula.

The Sea King aircraft - known as the 'Junglies' as a nod to the historical role helicopter commando squadrons played in Borneo in the 1960s - was fully retired in 2018

The Sea King aircraft – known as the ‘Junglies’ as a nod to the historical role helicopter commando squadrons played in Borneo in the 1960s – was fully retired in 2018

The Sea King has now been replaced by the Merlin MK4

The two front-line Sea King Mk4 squadrons have also been committed to around the clock in Afghanistan, supporting the mission of all Allied forces there.

Upgraded for its mission in Helmand, the most advanced version of the Sea King featured improved rotor blades and defensive aids and decoys to fend off enemy attack.

It also had night vision goggles to allow the crew to fly at all times and in all weather conditions.

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