Chief pilot says ‘superb’ aircraft are ‘committed to delivering a first-class service’

A special ceremony was held in South Wales today (Thursday) to mark the launch of the new civilian UK Search and Rescue at St Athan.

The service has been transferred from the RAF to private firm Bristow Helicopters Ltd, which will carry out helicopter search and rescue duties on behalf of Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) for the next 10 years.

The St Athan base went live on October 4, ending 74 years of service by RAF crews at Chivenor in North Devon.

The base was officially opened by Richard Parkes, MCA director of maritime operations.

He said: "HM Coastguard has been providing search and rescue helicopter services in northern Scotland and southern England for over 30 years.

"Today I am immensely proud to welcome our second Welsh civilian base to the service.

"I would also like to pay tribute to the outstanding work that the RAF at Chivenor has carried out over many decades, both inland and out to sea. We will ensure that their legacy is continued."

The new base is led by chief pilot Captain Olly Padbury, who has joined Bristow after 16 years with the RAF.

Cpt Padbury has flown search and rescue missions with the Sea King helicopter from RAF bases at Leconfield and Wattisham as well as Chivenor, where he was flight commander.

He joined Bristow's SAR team in July last year.

He said: "The whole team here at St Athan has worked incredibly hard to prepare for the base going live and we all feel very privileged to be involved in delivering this vital public service.

"For me it's exciting to be returning to the region which I know well from my time at Chivenor. We're all particularly grateful to the local community for their support and for welcoming us to St Athan.

"We have a superb aircraft in the AW139 and are committed to delivering a first-class service to the public."

Bristow's state-of-the-art AW139 helicopters are equipped with the latest search and rescue technology including night vision, mission management and increased onboard medical capabilities.

Samantha Willenbacher, director of UK search and rescue at Bristow Helicopters Ltd, said: "This is an exciting day for us as we officially mark the launch of the St Athan base.

"St Athan is the fifth of the UK SAR bases to go live and I am extremely proud of all Bristow personnel who have worked tirelessly in establishing this vital life-saving service from this location.

"I would like to recognise the incredible work which has been conducted by RAF 22 Squadron 'A' Flight in Chivenor.

"I would also like to extend our special thanks to all those who have helped us prepare for commencing operations including MOD St Athan, the Welsh Government as owners and operators of the St Athan site, other local emergency services personnel, the local community and in particular our colleagues at RMB Chivenor who have taken time to share their knowledge and expertise with us."

Economy Minister Edwina Hart said: "I am delighted the Welsh Government was able to provide a fully serviced site ready for development which made St Athan an attractive proposition and helped facilitate this important investment that is set to create 30 high quality jobs.

"It's good news the UK search and rescue helicopter service is now launched and joins the National Police Air Service on the Rotary Zone at St Athan Aerospace Business Park where they will both provide an invaluable service."