Civilian SAR marks milestone
The UK's new civilian search and rescue (SAR) helicopter service has reported a busy first six months, 1 April to 31 September 2015, as crews across five new bases respond to almost 400 taskings.
Bristow Helicopters Ltd is operating the civilian search and rescue helicopter service for the UK on behalf of HM Coastguard. New SAR helicopter bases at Humberside and Inverness went live in April with the base at Caernarfon following in July. A fourth UK SAR base went live at Lydd Airport in August and the fifth has just gone live at the beginning of October.
The bases at Inverness and Caernarfon have proven the busiest with Inverness responding to 163 taskings from the Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre (ARCC) in the first six months, and the Caernarfon base responding to 100 call outs in its two months of operations alone.
Combined with the two Gap SAR bases in Sumburgh and Stornoway which Bristow Helicopters already operates on behalf of HM Coastguard this brings the total number of taskings the service has completed in the six months to 567.
Taskings in the first six months illustrate the varied operations carried out by UK SAR crews. The very first tasking for the Humberside crew is cited as one of the most memorable by the base. They were called to rescue a 15 year old girl who fell some 200 feet down the cliffs at Filey sustaining serious head injuries. The crew swiftly evacuated her to hospital and she has since made an excellent recovery with no long term injuries. They have also been assisting fishing vessels and conducting medevacs in the Southern North Sea.
Meanwhile both the Inverness and Caernarfon bases have been largely focussed on mountain rescue operations due to their proximity to the Ben Nevis range and Snowdonia respectively.
Among the most memorable taskings for the Stornoway base is the rescue of the crew of the Irish fishing vessel, FV Iuda Naofa in January 2015. Arriving at the scene the helicopter crew transferred a salvage pump to the deck of the vessel in an effort to remove some of the flood water. A decision was soon made, however, to evacuate the crew as the pump was overwhelmed with water.
As the winchman was lowered to the deck the vessel capsized leaving him and the vessel’s crew in the water, and one of the fishermen very close to the vessel’s still turning propeller. Quick action by the crew identified the two fishermen in the water without life jackets first before recovering a third fisherman. The remaining two were picked up by a sister fishing vessel. The helicopter crew was given the Bristow Operational Excellence Award in recognition of their professionalism.
Samantha Willenbacher, director of UK search and rescue at Bristow Helicopters, said: “It has been a busy start for our new SAR bases with a high number of taskings over the summer months. The support we have received from local SAR partners who have taken the time to train with us and share their local knowledge has been invaluable in ensuring a smooth transition to the new service, as has the support of the military, airports and local communities in each area.
“We are proud to report that our fifth new SAR helicopter base went live on 4 October at St Athan and we are now working towards bases at Prestwick and Newquay beginning operations in the new year.”
Bristow Helicopters, a UK limited company, was awarded the 10 year UK SAR contract by the Department for Transport in March 2013. By 2017, it will deliver the service from 10 bases strategically located close to areas of high SAR incident rates.