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Transport / HIAL reviewing use of water rescue crafts

The government owned airport operator said it would consult fully.

The Sumburgh based water rescue craft being launched from West Voe. Photo: Ronnie Robertson

THE FLEET of water rescue crafts at airports in Scotland’s islands – including Sumburgh Airport – is currently under review.

Operator Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) insisted it would carry out a public consultation before any changes are made to water rescue provision.

News of the review was met by concern from south mainland councillor Allison Duncan, who said it would be “appalling” if Sumburgh were to lose its rescue craft.

Seven of HIAL’s 11 airports have water rescue provision, including rescue crafts, a jet ski and a mud rescue team. They are at Sumburgh, Barra, Benbecula, Dundee, Islay, Kirkwall and Stornoway.

The fast rescue crafts allow crews to head out onto the water in case of an accident.

It is understood that a report on the future of HIAL’s water rescue provision is due to be provided to board members in the coming weeks.

Sumburgh Airport’s rescue craft was used after the Super Puma helicopter crash in which four people died off the coast of Shetland in 2013.

However, it took almost an hour to reach the scene due to tidal conditions – leading to a official investigation calling for the launching slipway at Quendale, which is to the west of the airport, to be modified to avoid the tide issue in the future.

The nearest water based rescue service to Sumburgh Airport after the airport craft is the Lerwick lifeboat some 25 miles away.

A spokesperson for the government-owned HIAL confirmed that it is in the “process of reviewing its provision of water rescue services, including fast rescue craft, across its airports”.

“We are working closely with our on-site teams at our airports to review local risk and water rescue requirements and to ensure that what we have in place matches the local circumstances,” the company added.

“HIAL will ensure local consultation is carried out prior to any changes to any airport’s water rescue provision.

“HIAL is committed to ensuring the safety of its staff and customers and continues to work with our partner agencies, including the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, to provide a safe and robust response in the event of an incident.”

South mainland councillor Allison Duncan said safety should always be the top priority. Photo: Shetland News

HIAL board members were told earlier this year that there has only been one incident in 30 years where a fast rescue craft has responded to an aircraft accident at sea – the Sumburgh helicopter crash in 2013.

That operation resulted in two staff members being injured due to the sea conditions.

Councillor Duncan, who is also the vice-chairman of Shetland’s community safety and resilience board, said safety should always be the top priority.

“It’s my understanding that HIAL has always said that safety is paramount and important, so do they have a plan B if things were to happen out at sea if they don’t have a boat to get out there?” he said.

“Safety is paramount as far as I’m concerned and I hope that HIAL would be exactly the same.”

Duncan said he was himself involved in going out on an inflatable rescue craft from the airport after a Dan Air plane crashed into the sea at Sumburgh in 1979, killing 17 people.