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Sumburgh Helicopter Search and Rescue Base Exceeds Major Missions Milestones

December 16, 2016

The HM Coastguard search and rescue (SAR) helicopter service in Sumburgh, operated by Bristow Helicopters Ltd, has passed the 500 missions milestone since Bristow took responsibility for the lifesaving service in July 2013.

Bristow, which has a 45 year history of delivering search and rescue services in the UK, took over running the service on behalf of HM Coastguard at Sumburgh, on the Shetland Islands, in 2013. Bristow had originally operated the service out of Sumburgh from 1983 until 2007 when the service briefly switched to another operator. Since the base went live in 1983 over 3000 missions have been completed.

Chief Pilot in Sumburgh, Captain Stuart Cunliffe joined the RAF aged 16 and started his military career as a Survival Equipment Fitter. From there he became a crewman and went on to fly operationally in Kosovo, Bosnia, Northern Ireland and Mozambique, before being commissioned as a pilot in 2002. During his time as a pilot in the RAF he was posted to various SAR locations in the UK, and also served as a Senior Air Advisor in Afghanistan before taking up his final military role as Chief Pilot at RMB Chivenor in Devon. Stuart joined Bristow’s civilian SAR crew after SAR helicopter operations at RMB Chivenor ceased.

Captain Cunliffe said: “After delivering SAR operations around the world, I’m delighted to be back in the UK and delivering the service out of Sumburgh and around the Shetland Islands. I work with extremely talented and knowledgeable crews who have all played their part in saving a significant number of lives in the 500 or so missions that we’ve been part of over the last three years while some have been here much longer.

“We recently noted that the base has been tasked out just over 3000 times since it first went live in 1983 which is an incredible number. To have crew members who have been here since then shows the depth of experience available at the base. We look forward to continuing this great service and are very much looking forward to transitioning to the full UK SAR civilian service next year.”

In 2013 Bristow won the UK Government national contract to deliver SAR operations on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA). Seven of 10 strategically located bases have taken over the helicopter SAR responsibility from the military in a phased approach throughout 2015 and 2016. The remaining three, including the existing GAP SAR Coastguard bases in Sumburgh and Stornoway, are set to become part of the new contract in 2017.

For further information please contact the Bristow Helicopters Communication team on
01224 806602 or via