The launch of the Inverness civilian UK search and rescue (SAR) helicopter service was marked today in a ceremony held at the new SAR base at Inverness Airport.
The event follows a similar launch event at the new SAR base at Humberside Airport on 26 February.
Bristow Helicopters Ltd, a UK limited company, was awarded the 10-year UK SAR contract by the Department for Transport in March 2013 and will deliver the service on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) from 10 bases strategically located close to areas of high SAR incident rates.
These bases will go live in a phased approach with the first bases at Inverness and Humberside due to begin receiving taskings from the Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre (ARCC) on 1 April 2015.
Bristow crews will deliver 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 Richard Parkes, Director, Maritime Operations at the MCA and was attended by representatives from the Royal Air Force 202 Squadron. Also in attendance were other search and rescue organisations with whom Bristow and HM Coastguard have been working closely, and a host of invited guests who have been instrumental in preparing the new service.
Samantha Willenbacher, director of UK Search and Rescue at Bristow Helicopters Ltd, said: ‘We have enormous respect for the dedication that our military colleagues have demonstrated in delivering search and rescue over the past 70 years and we have always understood how vital it is that their knowledge and expertise is maintained.
‘We have worked closely with them in preparing for the civilian service to go live and have also welcomed many of them into the new civilian SAR force.’
The company’s aircraft and crews have been at the Inverness base since January 2015 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 local Inverness man Chief Pilot Captain John McIntyre.
Captain McIntyre started in aviation flying fixed wing aircraft from Inverness Airport after being awarded a flying scholarship through the Air Training Corp. He joined Bristow Helicopters in 1989 and graduated from the company’s cadet training school.
During his career he has flown oil and gas and military support missions in Europe, Africa and the Falkland Islands as well as SAR operations and crew training in the UK, Holland and Libya.
Captain McIntyre said: ‘Everyone here at the Inverness search and rescue base is very grateful to the local community for making us feel so welcome and we are very much looking forward to delivering a first-class lifesaving service to them.
‘Close ties and good working relationships are vital to our success and I am happy to say that we have had nothing but positive support and feedback from our colleagues in the military and other emergency service organisations whilst establishing the base here.
‘I also really appreciate the support we’ve had from Highlands and Islands Airports and the Inverness Airport Business Park.’
The UK SAR base at Humberside will also go live on 1 April 2015, while Caernarfon and Kent will go live on 1 July 2015, followed by St Athan on 1 October 2015. Prestwick and Newquay will become operational on 1 January 2016 and the remaining three bases at Lee-on-Solent, Sumburgh and Stornoway will follow in 2017.