The launch of the Prestwick civilian UK search and rescue (SAR) helicopter service was marked Thursday 17 December 2015 in a ceremony held at the new Coastguard SAR base at Prestwick Airport.
Bristow Helicopters Ltd is operating the search and rescue helicopter service for the UK on behalf of HM Coastguard. The UK limited company was awarded the ten-year UK SAR contract by the Department for Transport in March 2013, representing a £1.9bn investment by the UK Government in the UK’s search and rescue helicopter service. By 2017 the service will be delivered from ten bases in all, strategically located close to areas of high SAR incident rates.
The Prestwick base will begin SAR operations when crews begin receiving taskings from the Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre (ARCC) in January 2016.
Bristow crews are delivering the UK SAR helicopter service on behalf of HM Coastguard with state-of-the-art helicopters, equipped with the latest search and rescue technology including night vision, mission management and increased onboard medical capabilities.
The base was officially opened by Robert Goodwill MP, UK Transport Minister. Also in attendance were representatives from HMS Gannet and other search and rescue organisations, and invited guests with whom Bristow and HM Coastguard have been working closely to prepare the new service.
UK Transport Minister Robert Goodwill said: “The new Prestwick Search and Rescue base will provide a vital emergency rescue service at sea, in coastal areas and inland throughout Scotland and the UK. The brand new state-of-the-art helicopters flying from here will be on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to reach those in need. Our investment has provided helicopters that can fly further and faster than the previous service and shows our commitment to helping keep Scotland safe.”
Sir Alan Massey Maritime and Coastguard Agency Chief Executive said: “I am hugely proud that HM Coastguard has been entrusted with the UK’s search and rescue helicopter service. For us the launch of the Prestwick helicopter base is an extension of the high-quality service that we have been providing in other parts of the UK for the last 30 years.
“HMS Gannet SAR Flight has set the bar incredibly high, and I would like to thank them for their service and recognise the outstanding work they have done both at sea and inland over many decades. We will take their legacy forward with the utmost pride and care.”
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 Prestwick base. Prestwick is the fourth search and rescue helicopter base in Scotland, in addition to the newly launched base at Inverness and our bases at Stornoway and Sumburgh, which we have operated on behalf of HM Coastguard for many years.
“It is an honour to have been chosen by the UK Government to deliver this vital service and I am extremely proud of all of my colleagues who have worked tirelessly to help us reach this point. I would like to recognise the incredible work carried out by HMS Gannet SAR flight and to thank them and the team at Prestwick Airport and the emergency services for their support. I’d also like to extend my gratitude to the local community for welcoming us and for their patience leading up to this milestone.”
Bristow’s aircraft and crews have been at the Prestwick base throughout the autumn making preparations for the service going live and conducting a raft of training exercises with local search and rescue partners.
The base is led by Chief Pilot, Captain Craig Sweeney, a former Sea King Senior Pilot with the Royal Navy’s HMS Gannet Search and Rescue Flight. After more than a decade of service with the Navy’s Commando Helicopter Force, Capt Sweeney moved to Ayrshire to take up his posting in HMS Gannet in 2009 where he served until he joined Bristow in April 2013. During his military service he was presented with the Air Force Cross by Prince Charles in recognition of his “exceptional levels of leadership, grit and composure” during the rescue of a climber on Beinn Sgulaird, in Argyll, in December 2011.
Captain Sweeney said: “The whole team here at Prestwick feels very privileged to be involved in delivering this vital public service. It is a particular honour for me personally to provide this service to my local community - Prestwick is very much home for me and my family. We are very fortunate to have the S92 which is an excellent aircraft with a strong track record of successful SAR operations across the UK.”
Richard Jenner, Chief Executive Officer at Glasgow Prestwick Airport, said: “We’ve been working in partnership with Bristow for two years to bring HM Coastguard Helicopter Search and Rescue to Glasgow Prestwick Airport. It is great to see this facility up and running and ready to go operational from January 2016. It is an excellent asset for the airport and Scotland.
“We hope that the significant investment made by Bristow to base its operations here demonstrates the value that they ascribe to working in partnership with an experienced aviation base – we’ve hosted search and rescue at the airport for more than 40 years.
“We look forward to using our knowledge and experience to further develop our working relationship with Bristow. We will do everything we can to support them in their delivery of this vital emergency response service.”