A new era for the UK’s search and rescue (SAR) helicopter operations began January 1, 2016, when the Newquay and Prestwick SAR bases commenced operations, bringing military involvement to an end.
A release issued by HM Coastguard to mark the occasion stated: “All of us at HM Coastguard have enormous respect for the search and rescue helicopter service our military colleagues have provided for more than 60 years.
“We’re building on that legacy through a £1.9bn investment in the new civilianised service. And we’re sure our new distinctive red and white helicopters will be just as reassuring a sight in our skies, as they carry on the brave lifesaving work, for which we are all so very grateful.”
Prestwick and Newquay took over operations from Royal Navy bases at HMS Gannet SAR Flight and RNAS Culdrose respectively. Chief pilot at Prestwick SAR, Craig Sweeney, said: “Go-live was a very proud moment for the entire team. A formation flight with the Royal Navy Sea King was conducted at 0900 on 1 January and the official handover was marked as our S-92 overtook the Sea King on the main runway at Prestwick.”
Prestwick has already responded to 18 operational taskings. The first was in support of an Emergency Medical Retrieval Service from Glasgow to Fort William which was soon followed by a missing person search, a rescue of a person in the water off the Northern Irish shoreline, a cliff faller and medical transfers.
“We have been very busy, as expected, having taken over from one of the busiest military SAR bases in the UK,” said Sweeney.
Newquay SAR has been almost as busy, carrying out ten taskings since go-live. Speaking about the base’s handover from RNAS Culdrose, chief pilot Mark Coupland said: “We flew down from Newquay, arriving at 0830 in some very wet and windy conditions. It was quite a poignant moment for the Bristow crew who were there, three of whom had served on 771 Squadron at Culdrose previously. We were presented with a Sea King plaque with their well-known Ace of Clubs symbol on and then a tannoy was made for the last military SAR unit to stand down.
“We then returned on G-MCGZ to Newquay and shortly afterwards were tasked for our first job; a report of persons in the water at Mevagissey. We have been kept busy with regular taskings since then picking up personnel from a super tanker, from a cruise liner and the transfer of a pregnant woman from the Scilly Isles in the middle of the night to Treliske hospital in Truro.
“The SAR engineers have worked tirelessly to ensure we have two serviceable aircraft from the outset, and the efficient stores and admin set up have ensured we have been able to hit the ground running.
“As was envisaged, the transfer of responsibility has gone very smoothly and hopefully none of the locals have noticed a difference apart from a different coloured aircraft. We are still settling in to the new routine but are all confident that the training we have conducted during the workup and the capabilities of the new aircraft will provide a first class service to the South West for many years to come,” Coupland said.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is a frontline delivery and emergency response organization which is an agency of the Department for Transport. Part of the MCA is HM Coastguard, which provides a UK-wide maritime emergency prevention and response capability which responds to calls for help by radio, satellite or the 999 service and co-ordinates maritime search and rescue (SAR) within the UK SAR region. The agency helps approximately 25,000 people each year with 21,000 incidents co-ordinated by its rescue centres.
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