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Emergency services / Search and rescue helicopter crew celebrates milestone

THE SUMBURGH based Sikorsky S-92 search and rescue helicopters have just completed their 1,000th mission since Bristow Helicopters took over the coastguard search and rescue contract from Canadian firm CHC in June 2013.

In 2019 alone, the base responded to 198 distress calls, culminating in 232 people rescued and 470 flying hours. On average, the 31 crew members at the Sumburgh base attend 175 to 200 jobs a year.

They can be involved in a variety of events and incidents, including winching people to safety from the sea and from boats, people falling from cliffs, injured walkers, road accidents, and hospital transfers.

The 1,000th tasking saw the crew – Captain Roger Sherriff, Co-pilot Pete Richardson, winch operator Rob Glendinning and winchman Marty Davis – attend a medical evacuation from an offshore facility in the North Sea.

Notable missions during the last six and half years included the rescue of 15 people from a Spanish fishing boat at Vee Skerries, on the west coast of Shetland.

Coelleira on the Vee Skerries. Photo: Gary Sandison.

The crew of the Coelleira made a distress call after running onto rocks and the Sumburgh crew attended, with support from the RNLI and the Lerwick Coastguard base.

All 15 of the vessel’s crew were winched to safety by the Coastguard helicopter team and transferred to the Gilbert Bain Hospital in Lerwick.

Chief pilot at Sumburgh Capt. Stuart Cunliffe said: “Our team can be called out at any time to respond to a range of incidents, often in challenging conditions in some of the harshest weather the Islands and North of Scotland has to offer.

“Shetland is a unique and dynamic location, and the year-round training we undertake ensures we are ready to respond. In addition to our rescue role, we also provide vital support to the other emergency services, with island transfers a key part of what we do.”

In November 2019, the Sumburgh crew was joint recipients, alongside colleagues from Shetland-based Coastguard Rescue Teams, of the prestigious Department for Transport rescue shield for their involvement in the challenging rescue of a teenager from the base of a 120ft cliff at Fethaland.