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Coastguard helicopter staying until 2017
PORTLAND Coastguard rescue helicopter will be staying until 2017 despite staffing difficulties, the transport minister has said.
Transport Minister Stephen Hammond has said that the service will continue until June, 2017 as planned despite current crewing difficulties.
In a letter responding to South Dorset MP Richard Drax’s concerns about staffing at the helicopter base on Portland he wrote: “I can reassure you that a number of measures have been taken to safeguard the availability of the Portland SAR helicopter unit up to the end of June 2017.”
Mr Hammond said ‘the current operators are contractually obliged to provide experienced SAR crews for whom local knowledge is obtained from charts, maps and on-board avionics’.
He said: “I am confident that even after Portland closes the high risk cells that you describe in your letter will continue to be reached by a SAR helicopter within 60 minutes of take off, and in many cases within 30 minutes.”
Mr Drax said Mr Hammond has not addressed his concerns.
He said: “This fails completely to address the nub of my argument.
“We know that our waters are unforgiving, even in the summer.
“A helicopter arriving 60 minutes after take-off means it will get there at least one hour and 20 minutes after callout.
“By then, casualties will be in serious trouble or worse.
“We already have the testimony of the senior trauma consultant for Wessex that fatalities will inevitably increase without the Portland helicopter.
“I am afraid he is right.”
Mr Drax will be meeting with Bristow Helicopters, the future providers of SAR services for the UK, after a number of attempts to meet with the company.
He said: “The Portland helicopter is after all in my constituency.
“The minister says he ‘explicitly rejects’ any suggestion that he tried to ‘override’ my attempts to meet with Bristow helicopters.
“The minister tells me I may now meet Bristow, so long as a government representative is there. I have to ask – what are they afraid of?”
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