North Devon to lose Sea King search and rescue helicopters

Chivenor Sea King search and rescue helicopter.

Chivenor Sea King search and rescue helicopter. - Credit: Archant

Chivenor crew will move to South Wales from 2015.

NORTH Devon is set to lose its Chivenor-based Sea King search and rescue helicopters from 2015, the Department for Transport has announced today (Tuesday).

The crew will operate from a new base on the other side of the Bristol Channel at St Athan, Wales, about 50 miles away.

A £1.6 billion contact to run the rescue service in the UK has been awarded to American firm Bristow Helicopters Ltd, ending more than 70 years of cover by the RAF and Royal Navy.

The government say the new service would improve flying times and offer better coverage of high-risk areas.

Under the new contract, 22 state-of-the-art helicopters will operate 24-hour coverage from 10 locations around the UK.

Ten Sikorsky S92s will be based, two per site, at Stornoway and Sumburgh, and at new bases at Newquay, Caernarfon and Humberside airports.

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Ten AgustaWestland AW189s will operate, two per site, from Lee on Solent and a new hangar at Prestwick airport, and new bases which will be established at St Athan, Inverness and Manston airports.

In a statement issued today Patrick McLoughlin, Secretary of State for Transport, said: “This combination of aircraft and base locations will provide a world class search and rescue capability.

“Helicopters will be able to reach a larger area of the UK search and rescue region within one hour of take off than is currently possible, and we estimate that there will be an overall 20 per cent improvement in flying times, with the average flight time reducing from 23 minutes to 19.

“Presently, approximately 70 per cent of high and very high risk areas are reachable within 30 minutes. Under the new contract, approximately 85 per cent of the same areas are reachable within this time frame.”

Mr McLoughlin said that the decision to cease military involvement in search and rescue in the UK had not been made lightly, but that a new way forward was needed to replace the aging Sea King fleet.

He said that Bristow Helicopters Ltd represented the best solution for the UK over the next 10 years.

He said: “Our search and rescue helicopter service plays a crucial role, saving lives and providing assistance to people in distress on both land and on sea.

“With 24 years of experience providing search and rescue helicopter services in the UK, the public can have great confidence in Bristow and their ability to deliver a first class service with state-of-the-art helicopters.

“This contract represents a major investment by the government in providing a search and rescue helicopter service using the most up to date helicopters and meeting the highest professional standards.

“Operations will commence progressively from 2015 and the service will be fully operational across the UK by summer 2017.

“The contract will enable the RAF and RN to withdraw from search and rescue activities in the UK and retire their fleet of Sea King SAR helicopters.”

Mr McLoughlin also paid tribute to the service personnel for their ‘outstanding’ commitment and bravery.

“The service they have provided for over 70 years has been exemplary and the country owes them all an enormous debt of gratitude,” he said.

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