Chivenor campaign growing
OPPOSITION to plans for cutting helicopter search and rescue hours at Chivenor continues to grow as it emerged the North Devon station is one of the UK s busiest. Official figures covering up to the end of November 2009 show RAF 22 Squadron at Chivenor wa
OPPOSITION to plans for cutting helicopter search and rescue hours at Chivenor continues to grow as it emerged the North Devon station is one of the UK's busiest.
Official figures covering up to the end of November 2009 show RAF 22 Squadron at Chivenor was called out on 322 occasions,rescuing 267 people in the process. The total 2009 call outs are thought to be 339.
Campaigners fear lives will be lost if Government privatisation plans to slash flying hours from 24 to 12, go ahead in 2012.
The bulk of night time cover would be left to Culdrose in Cornwall, itself called out 294 times in the same period.
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In the first part of this year, the Chivenor crews have been called out 17 times, with most incidents during the recent cold snap.
They went as far afield as North Wales and Cornwall with several closer to home. Around half of these were carried out at night.
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Since Ilfracombe Town Council and North Devon MP Nick Harvey launched the campaign calling on the South West to fight the cuts, support has rolled in from all quarters.
Both Devon and Cornwall County Councils have declared their support, as have South West MPs, rescue services throughout the region and thousands of local people - as shown by the 10,205 who have joined an internet campaign page on Facebook.
The Ministry of Defence says the SAR-H Helicopter Harmonisation Project - currently the subject of bidding by two consortia - will bring the various search and rescue operated by the RAF, Royal Navy and Coastguard under one umbrella.
It says a fleet of new, faster helicopters will provide effective night cover for the whole Chivenor patch, which spans the South West, Wales and even the Western Approaches of the Atlantic Ocean.
But Ilfracombe Councillor Bob Thompson, who is heading the campaign, said the call-out figures and the flying time from Culdrose or RAF Valley in North Wales "made a nonsense" of these claims.
"We can assume a third of Chivenor and Culdrose flights will be at night, so will Culdrose or Valley be as effective meeting the requirements of theses 200-odd night time calls a year? The figures don't add up," he said.
"The campaign is defiantly growing. We have been raising awareness throughout the West Country and that continues, given the number of endorsements the campaign is receiving.