The last purpose-built HM Coastguard helicopter base at Lydd, Kent, was opened on 12 July, marking a major milestone in the UK’s national search and rescue helicopter service. Nusrat Ghani MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, officially opened the base, in a ceremony at the south coast aerodrome.
Lydd is one of 10 bases strategically located around the country in close proximity to areas where search and rescue incident rates are high. The other bases around the UK are at Sumburgh, Stornoway, Inverness, Prestwick, Caernarfon, St Athan, Humberside, Lee-on-Solent and Newquay.
Bristow Helicopters Ltd operates the search and rescue helicopter service for the UK on behalf of Her Majesty’s Coastguard, having been awarded the 10-year contract by the Department for Transport in March 2013, representing a £1.9-billion investment by the UK Government in the UK’s search and rescue helicopter service.
Richard Parkes, Director, Maritime Operations & HM Coastguard for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said: “The HM Coastguard search and rescue helicopter crews based at Lydd have been delivering an exceptional service for the past three years out of temporary facilities. It has given me great pleasure to see them now permanently settled. I have no doubt that the addition of the state-of-the-art facilities and the new AW189 helicopters will enable the team to continue to deliver a world class service that we all can be proud of.”
The opening of Lydd is the culmination of a significant national programme of investment which has delivered modern facilities which better-equip the 31-strong team of specialist pilots, winch operators, winchman paramedics, engineers and support staff as they respond to search and rescue incidents across the UK.
Russ Torbet, Director of UK Search and Rescue at Bristow Helicopters Ltd, said: “The new bases we have now constructed give our crews access to the best facilities in terms of being prepared to go out there and do that vital, life-saving work – from the standard of living quarters available to those on-base, ready to respond; to the operations and engineering control areas which are crucial to the day-to-day running of the service.
“We also want to recognise the work Westridge Construction, the local contractor appointed to create this site, has done in maintaining the standard which was set at the six previous new bases delivered across the country, as we officially begin operations from the new facility.”
At Lydd, part of the London Ashford Airport complex, two AgustaWestland AW189 helicopters are stationed and serve the south and south-east coast of England, as well as the English Channel when called upon. The Lydd base is led by Chief Pilot Captain Neil Robertson, a former Sea King pilot whose 17-year career in the RAF saw him serve as Flight Commander at RAF Wattisham’s SAR unit.
Capt Robertson said: “Our team’s focus is always on bringing people home safely from a search and rescue operation. During day-to-day operations and throughout our year-round training programme, this new base ensures that we have the facilities and support we need to be able to maintain the incredibly high standards the UK SAR service is renowned for.”