Search and Rescue a vital but dangerous task
The events of the last few days and the loss of an Irish Coastguard helicopter with all crew members highlight that search and rescue is a vital but perilous task in the waters around these Islands.
In relation to both Ireland and the United Kingdom it was traditionally undertaken by the military although that situation changed in Ireland over a decade ago and in the UK more recently.
Celtic League first took an interest in helicopter search and rescue in Ireland over three decades ago (1983) when we highlighted at that time deficiencies after a particularly arduous ordeal for the crew of a Donegal trawler that drifted for days before being found. (See link to Carn 42 Summer 1983 – P24)
The Irish Air Corps used relatively short range Dauphin helicopters which were not really suited to the SAR task but soldered on for years. The Irish Air Corps also leased a more substantial Puma helicopter for a period from the mid 1980s.
By contrast the RAF SAR equipment was fairly well resourced first with Wessex and then Sea King helicopters.
Ireland eventually awarded a contract to CHC the current provider that used large Sikorsky S61 helicopters until these were replaced by the current Sikorsky S92 machines. CHC provide the service to the Irish coastguard from bases in Waterford, Dublin, Sligo and Shannon.
With the phase out of the military role in the United Kingdom a contract was awarded to Bristow who operate from 10 bases around the UK including St Athan and Newquay (Cornwall) Stornaway, Prestwick, Inverness and Sumburgh (Scotland) and Caernarfon (Wales). As with CHC in Ireland Bristow operate Sikorsky S-92 and also smaller Agusta Westland AW189 helicopters.
The coastguard helicopter services in the two countries provide vital search and rescue facilities to both fisherman and coastal communities but as the accident at Blacksod bay has illustrated that vital role can sometimes take its toll of the rescuers themselves.
Sadly it’s not the first occasion on which rescue services in Ireland have suffered loss of this type. In 1999 four crew members of an Air Corps Dauphin helicopter lost their lives when the machine crashed in dense fog at Tramore in Waterford when returning from a rescue mission.
Image: S61 Helicopter the type operated by CHC prior to the S92 which is now used extensively by CHC in Ireland and Bristow in the UK for coastguard SAR.
pp Celtic League.