HM Coastguard’s Newquay Search and Rescue (SAR) team surpassed its 700-mission milestone as they responded to calls for help during extreme weather conditions brought by the ‘Beast from the East’ and Storm Emma. After the daily crew change at 13:00hrs on 28 February, there were four missions before midnight and, by noon on 2 March, the team had responded to 12 callouts in just 60 hours, with more than 20 hours spent away from base.
Unusually for the south-west, heavy snow needed to be cleared continuously and, when airborne, crews had to use techniques not often called for in the area to operate safely when hovering and landing over powder snow. The hectic few days’ activity saw the base pass its latest mission milestone – reaching and surging beyond 700 tasks completed since it operations began in January 2016.
Mark Coupland, chief pilot at Newquay SAR base, said: “It has been a challenging but rewarding time for the team. Everyone has pulled together and worked really hard to ensure operations could continue in very demanding conditions. When the Met Office issued a severe weather warning for the area, some crews even travelled through the night ahead of their next shift to ensure they made it to the base, rather than risk being unable to get in because of the snow. Throughout the week, our crews were tasked with flying in some extreme weather conditions which put their skills to the test in the air, and on the ground. Our engineers, accustomed to working hard to service our aircraft between missions, also brought our snow-clearing equipment out of storage and into full-time use to ensure the helipad was safe.”
During the height of the snowstorm which engulfed the area, a crewman became an overnight star on social media after a local photographer captured footage of him dancing on the landing pad to keep warm. John Baldry’s unique video of Coastguard 924 SAR helicopter landing at Derriford Hospital in the middle of a blizzard on Thursday, March 1, went viral and saw a huge swell of support from the public for the team’s efforts. The video, shared by local newspaper the Plymouth Herald and across social media channels, saw local residents praise the efforts of the emergency services teams working across Devon and Cornwall throughout the storm.
HM Coastguard Air Search and Rescue is operated by Bristow Helicopters Limited on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.