UK Launches Civilian Search and Rescue Helicopter Service

Photo credit: UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency
Photo credit: UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency

The UK today launched a civilian search and rescue helicopter service in support of Her Majesty’s Coastguard.

The service will be operated by the UK limited company Bristow Helicopters Ltd, which was awarded the ten year UK SAR contract by the Department for Transport in March 2013. It will deliver the service from ten bases strategically located close to areas of high SAR incident rates.

The bases will go live in a phased approach beginning 1 April 2015, with the first bases to open will be at Humberside and Inverness.

Bristow crews will deliver the UK SAR helicopter service with state-of-the-art helicopters, equipped with the latest search and rescue technology including night vision, mission management and increased onboard medical capabilities.

The launch of the service was marked Friday during a ceremony at the new SAR base at Humberside Airport attended by the Rt Hon John Hayes MP, Minister of State at the Department for Transport, Sir Alan Massey, Chief Executive of the MCA, representatives from the military and other search and rescue organizations who will work with the new service, and invited guests who have been instrumental in preparing the new service.

The UK SAR bases at Caernarfon and Kent will go live on 1 July 2015, followed by St Athan on 1 October 2015. Prestwick and Newquay will become operational on 1 January 2016 and the remaining three bases at Lee-on-Solent, Sumburgh and Stornoway will follow in 2017.

Bristow Helicopters Ltd has been in business since 1971 and has flown more than 44,000 SAR operational hours in the UK and conducted over 15,000 SAR missions, logging more than 7,000 rescues. The company’s fleet consists of Sikorsky S-92 and AgustaWestland AW189 helicopters.

Some comments from the ceremony below:

John Hayes MP, Minister of State at the Department for Transport said: “As the Minister responsible for Her Majesty’s Coastguard, I am delighted to be in Humberside on this historic day when we are on the cusp of launching this new state-of-the-art helicopter service.

“Although I would clearly rather everyone avoid the circumstances where a search and rescue helicopter rescue is needed, I very much look forward to hearing about the professionalism and commitment that resides in all that work here and which will surely save lives from 1 April.”

Sir Alan Massey Maritime and Coastguard Agency Chief Executive said: “I am hugely proud that HM Coastguard has been entrusted with the UK’s search and rescue helicopter service. For us this is a continuation of the high-quality service that we have been providing in selected areas of the UK for the last 30 years.

“The RAF and RN have set the bar incredibly high, and I would like to thank them for their service and recognize the outstanding work they have done both inland and on the coast over many decades. We will take their legacy forward with the utmost pride and care”.

Samantha Willenbacher, Director of UK Search and Rescue at Bristow Helicopters Ltd, said: “It is an honour to have been chosen to deliver this vital service across the UK. We know this is a service that people rely on in times of great need and we are committed to continuing the great work of the military.

“We have enormous respect for the dedication that our military colleagues have demonstrated in delivering search and rescue over the past 70 years and we have always understood how vital it is that their knowledge and expertise is maintained. We have worked closely with them in preparing for the civilian service to go live and have also welcomed many of them into the new civilian SAR force, including Chief Pilot here at Humberside Liz Forsyth, a former SAR Commander at RAF Lossiemouth and Pilot Flight Commander at RAF Valley.

“I would like to thank the local community in and around Humberside for making us feel so welcome and to thank Humberside Airport for their ongoing support. We look forward to the base going live and will continue to strive to deliver the best possible SAR helicopter service to the UK.”