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Submerged Wessex helicopter. Photo © Simon Brown

Submerged Wessex helicopter - Simon Brown, 2011

1 May 2014

After nearly 40 years of service with the RAF, this Westland Wessex now resides in the bottom of the National Diving and Activity Centre near Chepstow.

Diving in the UK can be a very fickle affair with the weather dictating where and when diving can occur, but for the diving photographer the greatest variable is underwater visibility.

It’s all dictated by how much suspended sediment or plankton is hanging in the water. On a bad day, you can’t see beyond the glass in your mask. On a good day, the underwater vista can feel like it goes on forever. It is almost impossible to predict when and where underwater visibility will peak, but for inland sites like quarries then winter is often a safe bet as cool waters and reduced sunlight kill off the algal blooms.

This image of the Wessex was shot for a personal project in December 2011 after a long period of cold, dry weather. Clarity was excellent and two hour-long dives on the helicopter were very productive indeed.

The Wessex is lit with three flash guns. One is on the camera illuminating the nose. That flash triggered a second gun inside the load bay pointing at the diver, and a third which is held by the diver to illuminate the tail. Setting up remote lighting like this can take an age, but the results can be very dramatic indeed. The only downside to diving in winter is the water temperature, at around six degrees does start to chill the fingers after an hour or so.

This particular Wessex was later identified as serial number XT607 which spent nearly 40 years with the RAF. For most of that time it was based at RAF Aldergrove in Northern Ireland. A few pilots did admit to flying it in Northern Ireland but none would discuss what they did, save one who supplied a photograph of himself dressed as Santa flying XT607 on Christmas day 1990.

With a rich and often detailed history, aircraft make excellent subjects and XT607 has appeared in SCUBA magazine and historical aircraft press worldwide.

Simon Brown is a photographer specialising in submerged objects in temperate waters. His subjects include everything from long-forgotten shipwrecks of Chesil Beach to underwater bomb disposal at the Cape Wrath bombardment range with the Royal Navy.

See more work by Simon Brown

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