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Sumburgh Search and Rescue Helicopter Base Marks Two Year Milestone as UK SAR Programme Ramps Up

September 09, 2015

The Sumburgh search and rescue (SAR) helicopter base responded to 335 taskings in the first two years of Bristow Helicopters Ltd resuming responsibility for delivery of the service on behalf of HM Coastguard on 1 June, 2013.

The base covers some 45,500 square nautical miles and sees the crews respond to a wide variety of jobs.

Reflecting on the past two years of operations, Deputy Chief Pilot Captain Graham Finn, said: “We have received a wide range of call outs over the past two years including jobs to assist fishing vessels or oil industry support vessels, aiding people who have sustained injuries or need urgent onshore medical treatment. Not all of our work is maritime in nature, however, and we are often called to assist people on the outlying islands including Foula, Unst, the Fair Isles and Orkney.”

The base cites turbulent weather conditions as the greatest challenge they face in day to day operations.

Captain Finn said: “Exposed to Atlantic gales we often experience sustained 50 knots winds with lashing rain and sea states averaging 10 meters and over. Even in the summer months the North Sea Haar forces Sumburgh Airport to close due to the fog while mainland UK bathes in sunshine.

“What this means for our operation is caution and meticulous planning so that our crews can get to people in need whatever the conditions. Fortunately we also have the support of a superb aircraft in the S-92.”

When Bristow assumed responsibility for the service in June 2013 the company introduced new Sikorsky S-92 helicopters equipped with state-of-the-art SAR technology.

Captain Finn continued: “When the weather and visibility deteriorate the S-92 has the equipment and trained crews who can approach land or vessels in near zero visibility using a combination of equipment such as radar, enhanced ground proximity warning and forward looking infra-red.”

One of the new aircraft was named ‘Oscar Charlie’ in honour of Shetland’s much-loved SAR S-61N helicopter which operated from the islands from 1985 until 2007.

As well as responding to taskings the crews have been proactively engaging with other emergency services including local coastguard teams and RNLI crews to facilitate joint training exercises.

In the past year the Sumburgh base has also been instrumental in Bristow’s preparations for assuming responsibility for the wider UK SAR helicopter service by training pilots, technical crew and engineers. Bristow Helicopters was awarded the ten year UK SAR contract by the Department for Transport in March 2013.

Crews across three new UK SAR bases at Inverness, Humberside and Caernarfon in Wales responded to over 200 taskings on behalf of HM Coastguard between 1 April and 31 July 2015. A fourth UK SAR base went live at Lydd Airport on 14 August. By 2017, Bristow will be operational at ten bases, including the existing bases at Stornoway and Sumburgh.

For further information please contact the Bristow Helicopters Communication team on 01224 806 602 or via

About HM Coastguard
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is a frontline delivery and emergency response organisation which is part of the Department for Transport. Its job is to ensure that the threat of pollution from ships is managed and tackled if it occurs and the public can be rescued if they get into difficulties.

Part of the MCA is HM Coastguard, which provides a UK-wide maritime emergency prevention and response capability which responds to calls for help by radio, satellite or the 999 service and coordinates maritime search and rescue (SAR) within the UK SAR region. The agency helps approximately 25,000 people each year with 21,000 incidents coordinated by its rescue centres.

About Bristow Helicopters Ltd
Bristow Helicopters Ltd is the leading provider of search and rescue (SAR) services in the UK, on behalf of Her Majesty's Coastguard, having been awarded the UK SAR contract and the Gap SAR contract for Northern Scotland. Bristow Helicopters has a long history of providing world class SAR services in the UK, beginning in 1971 and has flown more than 44,000 SAR operational hours in the UK and conducted over 15,000 SAR missions, during which more than 7,000 people have been rescued by our crews and helicopters. For more information on Bristow’s SAR operations, please visit

Bristow Helicopters Ltd. has served the offshore oil transport industry in the UK for nearly 60 years. Bristow Helicopters Ltd. is an affiliated company of Bristow Group Inc.