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Press Notice No: 166/02

Date: 05/07/2002


The Stornoway Coastguard Rescue helicopter lifted off today from its base in the Western Isles for its 2000th search and rescue mission following a call at 5:50 p.m. today, alerting Stornoway Coastguard that a small boat had capsized whilst fishing in a loch. The nearest location point is said to be inland from the head of Fionn Loch.

The alarm was raised by a member of the public who telephoned the Dingwall Police, who in turn requested assistance from Stornoway Coastguard.

Stornoway Coastguard scrambled the Coastguard helicopter and tasked the Loch Ewe and Ullapool Coastguard Rescue Teams.

Ed Thompson, Stornoway Coastguard Watch Manager said: "The Sector Manager from Ullapool is proceeding with his team to the scene, where a shoreline search will be carried out. At this time it is thought that there were two men in the boat and one of those has made it to shore. The weather conditions at present are south easterly force 2 winds and the visibility is good."

There have been 8 rescues in the past two weeks alone with 22 rescues in June so far. Sixty-five rescues since the 1 January 2002 and now 2,000 rescues since the start of the first contract - which began in May 1987.

Over nineteen hundred people have been rescued since start of the start of the contract, in addition to at least I dog, 2 cows and more sheep than the Coastguard can count!

Chief Pilot Alan Elphinstone said: "Operating from Stornoway has been decidedly interesting and challenging on many occasions, mainly because of the diversity of rescue missions attended. The close proximity of the Atlantic Ocean produces some of the most amazing weather conditions I have ever witnessed and demands the highest levels of skill and professionalism from aircrew when conducting rescues."

" The success of the Stornoway SAR flight is undoubtedly due to the excellent teamwork of the Coastguard, Aircrew, Engineers and Doctors, who "pull out all the stops" when a life is at risk. We have also been fortunate to have the tremendous support of the Local community in the Western Isles from the day we arrived."

On December 19th 1985, the Banff registered fishing vessel `Bon Ami’ was lost together with its 6-man crew off Kinlochbervie. This incident marked the start of deliberations to establish a search and rescue aircraft presence in the North West of Scotland. The Coastguard search and rescue (SAR) flight in Stornoway was inaugurated on May 12th 1987 with the arrival of Sikorsky S61N registered G-BBVA.

This was the second contract for a SAR aircraft awarded to Bristow Helicopters and was sited in the Gaydon hangar at RAF Stornoway. Alan Elphinstone captained the first crew on shift and the first SAR Sortie rescued an injured walker from the top of the hill 'Tom Ruisg' west of Loch Seaforth on the 16th of May. G-BBVA, an interim aircraft, was replaced on 24th September 1987 by G-BDII, fully equipped for the Western Isles including FLIR and a long range fuel tank to give an effective maximum range of 236 nautical miles.

The Stornoway Coastguard Helicopter has been deployed in incidents from the Orkneys & Shetlands to Northern Ireland and the Clyde as well as in its main sphere of operations in the Hebrides. It has carried out a multitude of tasks from Mountain rescue in Skye, Wester Ross and Sutherland to long range medical evacuations off Rockall and working with the Police and Fire services. As well as a number of transfers of military casualties from a multitude of NATO vessels exercising off Lewis, including at least two submarines, the army range staff based on St. Kilda have been assisted on a number of occasions.

From 1988 until early last year the Coastguard provided the main air ambulance service for the Western Isles and up to a third of all tasking were medical. A very large number of these patients have been prospective mothers or babies and the highlight was on 2nd April 1989 when Kirsty Macleod was born onboard over Loch Erisort! Last summer the wife of one of the local Auxiliary Coastguards was safely transferred to Inverness for the birth of their first baby.

Famous rescues over the years include the rescue of the crews of the Irish Fishing vessel `Paraclete’ off the Butt of Lewis on 17th October 1988 and of the Jersey registered Fishing vessel `Burutu’ off Scarp on 27th November 1991. For the first rescue the winchman, Jeff Todd, was awarded the Prince Philip Helicopter Rescue Award by the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators. The Coastguard Helicopter crew were honoured by presentations from the Killybegs Fisherman’s Organisation as well as the 'Edward and Maisie Lewis Award' of the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariner's Benevolent Society which was presented to the crew in London by HM The Queen.

For the latter rescue the Bristow’s crew were presented with the Chief Coastguard's Commendation together with a special award at the 1992 Silk Cut Award ceremony. In 1992 the Chief Coastguard's Commendation was awarded for the rescue sortie to the Spanish Fishing vessel `Txorri Erreka’ off Rockall on 17th January, when the winchman, Terry Freeman was swept into the sea.

In 1988 G-BIMU replaced G-BDII which had ditched during a rescue attempt off Handa Island on the night of 17 October. Various aircraft have been used for short-term maintenance cover etc. and the call signs VA, OH and HL are well known to Stornoway Coastguard staff. Less happy call outs include the service to the crashed RAF Shackleton on Maodal, South Harris on 30th April 1990 and the search for two German tourists who died on the Trotternish Ridge in Skye in the autumn of 1993. The search in the latter case extended over a period of weeks between Skye and Harris.

The Stornoway Helicopter has featured in prestigious air magazines such as the March 1991 edition of Rotor and Wing. Lord Donaldson used G-BIMU for his survey of the Minch when completing his `Braer’ Report in April 1993 and this was also intensively covered in the media.

After eight years of busy SAR service the helicopter arrived at the 1000th SAR Sortie. This occurred at 09:45 a.m. on 24th April 1995 when the helicopter was scrambled to Lyndale Point, Loch Snizort (2 miles south of Uig, Skye) to search for the missing skipper of the local fishing vessel `Tiree’ Maid, found drifting and empty. At 10:35 a.m. Oban Coastguard reported that Rescue MU had found and lifted the skipper, Mr. Donald Bethune, to safety.

In April 1997 Bristow Helicopters were awarded the renewal third rescue contract at Stornoway.

On average statistics show one person saved from danger for each of these sorties!

Posted by: Mark Clark


For further details contact:
The Maritime & Coastguard Agency Duty Press Officer
Pager: 07693 263007
Or Office hours 023 8032 9401