The launch of the civilian UK search and rescue (SAR) helicopter service was marked on 26 February 2015 in a ceremony held at the new SAR base at Humberside Airport. Bristow Helicopters Ltd will operate the SAR service for the UK on behalf of HM Coastguard. The company was awarded the 10-year UK SAR contract by the Department for Transport in March 2013, and will deliver the service from 10 bases strategically located close to areas of high SAR incident rates.
These bases will go live in a phased approach from 1 April. The first bases to open will be at Humberside and Inverness. Bristow crews will deliver modern helicopters equipped with the latest SAR technology including night vision, mission management and increased onboard medical capabilities.
At the ceremony, John Hayes, 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 SAR 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 Royal Air Force and Royal Navy have set the bar incredibly high, and I would like to thank them for their service and recognise 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, added her thoughts: “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.”
The UK SAR bases at Caernarfon and Kent will go live on 1 July, followed by St Athan on 1 October. 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.