Mountain rescue teams in Scotland criticise helicopter bosses

A UK Coast Guard Helicopter. Credit: Maritime and Coastguard agency

Four mountain rescue bases in Scotland have criticised the agencies operating the UK rescue helicopter services, claiming that they have a ‘casual disregard’ for the safety of team members.

Teams from Glencoe, Tayside, Lochaber and Cairngorm released a joint statement claiming that the police, the Coastguard and the Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre (ARCC) often put these rescue crews in danger by not allowing aircraft on dangerous missions, most notably for the retrieval of bodies. According to the statement, Coastguard helicopters are not allowed to lift bodies from a mountainside and are also not permitted to airlift crew after the casualty has been recovered, leaving team members with dangerous descents.

The statement was keen to stress that the teams have no issue with the crews of the aircraft, just the agencies that operate them. The contract to operate these helicopters was switched from the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force to a private company under the control of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in 2016. The parties are currently in the middle of new contract discussions.

The four bases have released a further statement stating that they have been overwhelmed by the level of support they have received in response to the original complaints.

A spokesperson for the bases said: “Following our public statement regarding our concerns about the way in which the rescue helicopter (SAR H) contract is being co-ordinated and operated, the four teams of Glencoe, Lochaber, Tayside and Cairngorm have been overwhelmed and humbled by the level of support that we have received from the public.”

The spokesperson went on to acknowledge the support the teams have seen from others in the mountain rescue world.

“We value and appreciate the work of all volunteers in search and rescue. We know how much what they do matters. We also care greatly for our helicopter crews who often put themselves at great risk to rescue others,” a spokesperson for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said in response to the original statement.

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