DAYS after a campaign was launched to try and stop cuts to the helicopter rescue service at Chivenor a local crew was called out on a night time mission to some of the worst flooding the country has ever seen.

DAYS after a campaign was launched to try and stop cuts to the helicopter rescue service at Chivenor a local crew was called out on a night time mission to some of the worst flooding the country has ever seen.

An RAF Seaking from North Devon was scrambled at 1.20am on Friday to help with the rescue effort at the flood stricken town of Cockermouth in Cumbria, which saw more than a foot of rainfall in 24 hours.

The crew of Flight Lieutenant Jon Hill, co-pilot Squadron Leader Olly Padbury, radar operator Sergeant Simon "Beano" Green and winchman Sgt Ryan Thomas relieved three other rescue helicopters which had been working for the previous 10 hours - in total the RAF rescued 67 people.

But Government plans to privatise the service in 2012 and cut operations at Chivenor from 24 to 12 hours a day could spell the end of such lifesaving and timely rescues, campaigners have warned.

There has been a huge surge of support since Ilfracombe Town Council and North Devon MP Nick Harvey launched a campaign calling on people and organisations across the whole West Country to fight the proposals.

"Chivenor took off for Cockermouth before 2am," said Councillor Bob Thompson, one of the campaign leaders.

Given the 2012 proposals that would not have been available and sadly, this incident is just such an example of what we have been talking about and a tragic example of what can happen."

Mr Thompson said there has been huge support for the campaign in just its first week. A Facebook page called Keep Chivenor 24 Hours already has some 3,000 messages of support from across the West Country.

"Emails of support have been coming in to the Ilfracombe Town Council website and a lot of messages have come from mountain rescue teams in the South West, rescue groups and individual coastguards. They say the loss of 24 hour cover will cause enormous problems for them when they are called out at night."

At Cockermouth the Chivenor team winched two people, an older man and a woman, to safety from the first floor windows of their town centre homes.

The Sea King also conveyed rescue teams to several locations that had been completely cut off by the floods and where the water was running too fast even for lifeboats. The crew also filmed aerial footage of the flood-stricken area to help rescuers and the authorities gain and idea of what was happening.

"The scale of the destruction was like nothing I had ever seen before," Flt Lt Hill told the Gazette.

"Cars were completely submerged and they had been tossed around like matchboxes. Wearing night vision equipment and goggles makes everything look a bit flat, so I don't think any of us got a full sense of the destruction until daybreak.

"We worked through the night and into the next day and were geared up to continue the effort into the weekend, but luckily the weather was not as bad as predicted."

To add your support to the "Save Chivenor" campaign, email itc@northdevon.gov.uk or write c/o Pauline Williams, The Ilfracombe Centre, 44 High Street, Ilfracombe, EX34 8AL.

Nick Harvey is also running an online petition against the proposals at www.nickharveymp.com/petitions or visit Keep Chivenor 24 Hours on Facebook.