The MOD has apparently recently issued a warning to all personnel who maintained Sea King helicopters to be aware of the possible symptoms of exposure to asbestos. Asbestos was present in many components – sometimes on a very small scale. However, in the course of removing and servicing parts, the maintenance crews might have become exposed to the dust that is often created over time.
Asbestos was used in many applications when the helicopters were first fielded back in 1969. Vehicle-brakes, insulation, fireproofing, barn-roofs etc. often contained – or indeed were made of, asbestos. According to the NHS, asbestosis is a relatively rare condition, because it takes a considerable degree of asbestos exposure to cause it, and regulations to restrict exposure have been in place for many years.
However, it has been reported that the current Sea King warning comes about after an Australian Petty Officer who maintained Sea Kings died of cancer after being exposed to asbestos. That having been said, there have been no reported direct links to his work on the helicopters to date.
Symptoms of asbestosis include:
- Shortness of breath.
- Tightness in your chest.
- Persistent dry cough.
- Chest pain.
- Appetite loss.
- Finger clubbing (enlarged fingertips)
- Nail deformities.
According to the NHS website, www.nhsinform, “one of the most important things someone with the condition can do is to stop smoking if they smoke. This is because the symptoms are more likely to get worse in people who smoke, and smoking also increases the risk of lung cancer in people with asbestosis.”
About nine countries have used Sea Kings at some point and it is understood that the UK MOD has issued all of them with information about the asbestos. However, the Sea King is itself a license-built derivative of the Sikorsky S-61 which was operated by another fifteen countries. It is not known whether the Sikorski versions are similarly affected by asbestos.