The move to switch search and rescue operations to base in Wales could be delayed until October.

The transfer of Chivenor’s search and rescue helicopter service to Wales has been postponed, the Gazette understands.

The switch to a brand new base at St Athan was originally set for April this year, but is now not likely to happen until October.

As part of a £1.6billion national contract to transfer UK Search and Rescue (SAR) operations to American firm Bristow, Sea King helicopters will cease to operate from North Devon.

They will be replaced by two AgustaWestland AW189s, currently being assembled in Yeovil.

North Devon MP Nick Harvey said he understood the transfer had been delayed until October 1.

Mr Harvey told the Gazette: “I see no possibility of it failing altogether.

“But given that all eight stations currently based on military premises are being relocated to civilian bases, and a new station is being built from scratch for each of them, it is probably no surprise that the original April 1 date has slipped a little.

“The Sea Kings’ exit from service, though, cannot be delayed by much as they will lose all their safety certifications.”

A spokesman for the Department for Transport could not confirm the exact date of the switchover to Bristow. He said the construction of the air rescue co-ordination centre based in Fareham was due for completion on March 31, 2016.

This, he said, would mark the completion of the transition of SAR contracts to Bristow across the UK – including Chivenor.

The Gazette contacted the military SAR force headquarters to confirm the dates, but has received no comment.

However, a spokesperson for Bristow Helicopters Ltd said: “A new search and rescue base at St Athan, operated by Bristow Helicopters on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, will go live on 1 October 2015.

“It will then be the responsibility of the Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre to begin tasking our aircraft for missions.”

This year, the Gazette will be reliving the history of North Devon’s Sea King helicopters and talking to some of the people they have rescued. We’d love to hear your stories – contact reporter Sarah Howells on 01271 341658 or email sarah.howells@archant.co.uk