HUNDREDS of maintenance staff are feared to have inhaled potentially-fatal asbestos dust while working on Sea King helicopters.

The Ministry of Defence is trying to trace former employees, including civilian technical staff, who have worked on Sea Kings since the aircraft entered service almost 50 years ago.

Sea Kings have been based in several parts of Hampshire, including Portsmouth and Lee-on-the-Solent.

An MoD spokesman said: “Any remaining items in service Sea Kings suspected to contain asbestos are being removed urgently and we are contacting those who may have been exposed in the past, detailing the actions they should take.”

It comes after a report into the death of an Australian serviceman was attributed to exposure to asbestos, petrol or other toxins.

Petty Officer Greg Lukes, an avionics technician who maintained Sea Kings in New South Wales, died four years ago from a rare and aggressive form of cancer.

Sea Kings have been deployed in various parts of the world, including the Falklands and Afghanistan.

According to Unite the union an estimated 1,000 former MoD employees could have been exposed to asbestos while maintaining the helicopters.

Ex-workers are being invited to fill in a personal asbestos record – but Unite says many will be unaware of the form’s existence.

Union officials are urging the ministry to redouble its efforts to trace former workers so they can be tested for exposure to asbestos.

Jim Kennedy, Unite’s national officer for the MoD, said: “How on earth would former employees know of this form’s existence – ‘MoD Form 960 Asbestos – Personal Record Annotation’ – and that it can be accessed in 2018.

“More importantly, unless they knew they had been exposed to asbestos, it wouldn’t be on their radar to record this exposure.

“This makes it imperative the MoD steps up its efforts to track down former employees so they can be screened.

“Unite will press to find out what steps the MoD has taken to identify ex-employees, given that asbestos-related disease can develop over many years.”