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Welcome back “Oscar Charlie”

Shetland's new Sikorsky S-92 coastguard search and rescue helicopters at Sumburgh last year.

A DECISION to rename Shetland’s coastguard search and rescue helicopter Oscar Charlie has been greeted with enthusiasm in the islands.

On Friday Bristow Helicopters announced they would be holding a naming ceremony at the coastguard’s Sumburgh base on 25 April.

The name Oscar Charlie became synonymous with the coastguard chopper every time it was seen in the skies around the isles since it first came into service almost 30 years ago.

The name came with the call sign GBD-OC on the original Sikorsky S-61N that started operating out of Sumburgh in 1985, having already served the North Sea oil industry for some years.

When Canadian firm CHC took over the coastguard contract in 2007 it brought in new Sikorsky S92 aircraft with new call signs, but continued using the name Oscar Charlie informally.

However since Bristow won the contract back last year the name has fallen into disuse, the coastguard service using the operating name Rescue 102 when reporting incidents.

On Friday Bristow said they intended to “honour the legacy of Shetland’s much-loved search and rescue helicopter Oscar Charlie by naming their new state-of-the-art Sikorsky S-92 SAR aircraft after it”.

The coastguard’s two Shetland helicopters will retain their existing call signs MCGC and MCGB, but the main chopper will now carry the name Oscar Charlie in the same way a boat has its own name as well as its registration number.

The naming ceremony will include local MP Alistair Carmichael, who worked hard to retain the Lerwick coastguard station when the UK government threatened it with closure in 2010.

He will be joined by Maritime & Coastguard Agency chief executive Sir Alan Massey and Bristow’s director of UK search and rescue Samantha Willenbacher.

The first pilot to fly Oscar Charlie for Shetland coastguard was Gordon Mitchell, who welcomed the decision to bring back her old name.

“I think it’s great because everyone knew Oscar Charlie and having another aircraft flying around for the coastguard just doesn’t seem right somehow,” he said.

The original Oscar Charlie started flying in 1976 for the British National Oil Company (BNOC) on the North Sea’s Thistle field, before coming to Shetland in 1985 after being modified for coastguard work.

Mitchell flew it on many missions, including the 1986 Chinook crash off Sumburgh, the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988 and the Braer oil spill in 1993, along with innumerable incidents off the Shetland coast for which its crew gained national recognition.