Sea King Helicopter Fumes Causes Cancer in RAF Personnel

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Gavin Hughes

Partner, Military Claims Solicitor

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Many RAF personnel could be at risk of developing cancer after being exposed to exhaust fumes from the Sea King helicopter.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) was aware that the fumes produced by the helicopter were potentially harmful, but service personnel weren’t told and, as a result, were unwittingly exposed to toxic fumes regularly.

Several service personnel have been diagnosed with various types of cancer, including multiple myeloma, throat cancer and testicular cancer, and some have since successfully claimed compensation from the MoD.

It appears the MoD were fully aware of the risks posed by Sea King helicopters some time ago, so it’s extremely disappointing that service personnel find themselves in this position.

We’re already representing individuals in Sea King compensation claims against the MoD, and fully understand the anger and disappointment they’re feeling right now.

A rescue helicopter mid-flight

If you were diagnosed with cancer after working with Sea King helicopters during your time in the RAF, please contact our expert Military Claims Solicitors for a free claims assessment.

We’ll be happy to discuss your situation with you and can let you know straight away if you could claim compensation. Ask us if we can handle your claim on a No Win, No Fee basis.

Get in touch today!

If you have developed cancer, and believe that it has been caused by exhaust fumes from Sea King Helicopters, get in touch with our team on 0808 239 0244 or

Zach’s Story

A former Royal Air Force (RAF) airman, Zach Stubbings, successfully secured compensation after he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare blood and bone marrow cancer, after getting tests for a rash on his neck and wrists. He had to have a stem cell transplant and underwent chemotherapy for 10 months. The incurable bone marrow cancer was a result of prolonged exposure to helicopter exhaust fumes. Zach Stubbings received his multiple myeloma diagnosis during his tenure as a winch operator at RAF Valley on Anglesey in 2011.

Subsequently, Stubbings unearthed documents that revealed safety concerns regarding Sea King helicopters dating back to the 1990s. The Sea King, which had served for 37 years and played a significant role in numerous major conflicts, including the Gulf and Bosnian Wars, was retired in 2018.

Now, Zach Stubbings is issuing a warning to other former Sea King air crew members, including the Duke of Cambridge, who was also stationed on Anglesey. He is alerting them to the potential health risks associated with their service.

Speaking to the Daily Mail in 2021, Zach said his doctor couldn’t understand what triggered his condition, so he began researching online and found a paper linking cases of the disease in firefighters to diesel exhausts.

He submitted a Freedom of Information Request for any reports about the Sea King and exhaust fumes, and learned that concerns about potential health risks had been raised in previous years.

“There were concerns the fumes might be poisoning the lads before I even joined the Air Force and someone knew but kept signing off the aircraft to fly,” Zach said.

“If we’d known we could have at least worn personal protective clothing. Now I just want to make everyone who flew on the Sea King is aware there is a risk.”

Several of Zach’s colleagues who flew the same helicopter have been diagnosed with various types of cancer, including bowel, throat and testicular cancer.

“We’re talking about people in their 30s, people who, like me, kept themselves fit,” he said. “You don’t twig. You don’t make the connection but someone knew. Someone had this information and didn’t warn us.”

Because of his condition, Zach had to leave the RAF and the MoD accepted his war disability claim, but this was worth just £35 a week, which he said was “a pittance”. He then claimed compensation, and in 2021, was awarded an undisclosed amount.

Two people in the cockpit of a helicopter

Richard’s Story

In a concerning development, a second airman successfully secured a compensation settlement from the Ministry of Defence, affirming that his rare cancer is a direct consequence of piloting Sea King helicopters, the same type flown by Prince William.

Former Royal Navy Commander Richard Sutton, who had been awarded an MBE for his brave missions involving the transportation of commandos into conflict zones, was diagnosed with a rare form of the deadly disease known as Epithelioid Fibrosarcoma. He has conclusively demonstrated that his diagnosis is linked to the inhalation of toxic exhaust fumes from the Sea King helicopter's cockpit.

Sutton, hailing from Cardiff, Wales, has highlighted the critical issue of safety and transparency within the Ministry of Defence. He insists that the Ministry was well aware of the necessity for exhaust modifications in the Sea King but failed to take any action.

Richard Sutton's battle with cancer began in 2011 when he discovered a golf ball-sized lump in the roof of his mouth while on vacation. has At the time of being awarded compensation he had undergone six surgeries and two rounds of radiotherapy. He strongly believes that the airflow created by the helicopter rotors inadvertently acted as a vortex, directing exhaust fumes and other debris into the cabin and cockpit.

These two compelling cases emphasise the pressing need to address the health risks associated with service on Sea King helicopters. They call for greater awareness, support, and resources for veterans and their families who may be suffering from illnesses linked to their service. The importance of comprehensive safety measures and modifications for military equipment cannot be underestimated, as these stories starkly illustrate.

Historical Awareness

Documents dating as far back as 1999 have come to light, revealing that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) was aware of the potential dangers associated with inhaling toxic exhaust fumes from Sea King helicopters. A report recommended modifications to redirect exhaust fumes away from the cabin door. However, the MoD failed to act on these recommendations despite subsequent reports with further safety suggestions, including the provision of necessary personal protective equipment (PPE). Equally concerning, servicemen were not adequately informed about the potential hazards and the risks of cancer development.

Legal Action with Simpson Millar

If you have served in the Royal Air Force (RAF) since 1987 and have been exposed to exhaust fumes from Sea King helicopters, either as a flight crew member or engineer, and subsequently received a cancer diagnosis, you may have grounds to pursue legal action against the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

 Your health and rights deserve protection, and our experienced legal team is here to help you navigate your options and seek the compensation you deserve.

Disclaimer: The content provided on the Simpson Millar website serves as general information and is indicative of the status as of the publication date. It is not a substitute for legal counsel and should not be regarded as such. If you seek up-to-date information regarding current legislation, case law, or best practices, we encourage you to get in touch with our law firm for the most accurate guidance.


The Sun. (2021). RAF airman wins cancer payout after exposure to Sea King helicopter exhaust fumes. The Sun. []

The Daily Mail. (2021). A former pilot's cancer caused by helicopter's fumes exposed to future king. Daily Mail. []

European Union Aviation Safety Agency. (2017). EASA Aviation Research Report: Characterisation of the toxicity of aviation turbine engine oils after pyrolysis. European Union Aviation Safety Agency.]

Gavin Hughes

Partner, Military Claims Solicitor

Gavin is a Partner in our Personal Injury department and Head of the Military Accident and Injury Claims team. He also runs his own caseload of military personal injury cases.

Gavin shows a personal touch with his clients and works closely with them to achieve the best results.

He is a robust and determined litigator and has secured many six and seven-figure settlements for clients throughout his career.

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