South Dorset MP puts case for coastguard helicopter

Bridport and Lyme Regis News: THREATENED: The coastguard helicopter THREATENED: The coastguard helicopter

THE fight to save the Portland Coastguard helicopter has received a boost after its plight was raised in the House of Commons.

South Dorset MP Richard Drax, below, hit out at the Government in a debate on the under-threat aircraft – and urged ministers to come to Dorset and meet lifesavers.

Mr Drax won the chance to speak about the threatened helicopter at an adjournment debate in the House of Commons in front of Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport Norman Baker.

In his speech, Mr Drax highlighted issues that could affect livesaving capabilities in the area if the helicopter is axed in 2017, as is currently proposed by the government.

Mr Drax outlined issues around flight times from bases that would take on the work of Portland helicopter if it was scrapped, as well as the high number of incidents the Dorset helicopter is used for each year.

Opening the debate, Mr Drax paid thanks to all those involved in the campaign to save the threatened service and paid tribute to the crews.

Mr Drax said approximate flight times from bases that would take on the work of Portland were about 63 minutes from Culdrose, Cornwall to Portland, about 36 minutes from Lee-on-Solent, Hants, to Portland and from Chivenor, Devon to Portland was about 52 minutes.

Mr Drax said: “In the sea, a person has 10 minutes before they are unconscious – that is the maximum in current sea temperatures – and 30 minutes before their core temperature drops and they are dead.

“Not one of the proposed helicopter bases would meet that time. All the people in the water would be dead.”

If plans to axe the helicopter went ahead Mr Drax said ‘lives will be lost’. He said he did not make the statement ‘loosely or lightly’ but with the backing of those in the know who predict that ‘five, six, seven or eight’ more people a year could lose their lives.

Mr Drax said: “That many people each year will be dead if we do not have our helicopter.

“That is all because the government are relying on modelling from miles behind the frontline, rather than having the courtesy, if nothing else, to come down to Dorset and listen.”

He added: “Listen and I am convinced that once you have done that, ministers will change their minds, or at least will start thinking about the whole process again.”

Responding, Mr Baker said that the new service would utilise a ‘full fleet of state-of-the-art aircraft’ with ‘greater reliability and faster flying times to many more locations.’

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