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HM Coastguard’s search-and-rescue (SAR) helicopter team on the Western Isles celebrated more than three decades of vital lifesaving service with a special event at their newly-renovated base in Stornoway on June 12.
The helicopter service, operated by Bristow Helicopters Ltd on behalf of HM Coastguard, has a long and proud history of saving the lives of those in need on land and at sea.
The event also recognized the people and communities who work together to save countless lives and saw the Department for Transport’s Rescue Shield Award, given to those involved in truly heroic rescues, was presented by Richard Parkes, director of HM Coastguard to those involved in two incredible rescues.
On June 26, last year, Coastguard rescue teams, Coastguard Operations Centre staff and the helicopter crew from Stornoway worked together to save an elderly man who was clinging onto a cliff edge on the Island of St Kilda.
The Coastguard was called after the man was spotted in one of the most remote parts of the U.K., having slipped and fallen some 30 hours earlier. When the helicopter arrived, the man was in an extremely precarious position with a sheer 200-foot drop below him.
Winching him onto the helicopter wasn’t an option, as the downdraft could have proved fatal. Time was of the essence; the man was weak and could have lost his grip at any second. Coastguard rope technicians jumped into action and were able to bring the man to safety.
The Rescue Shield Award, which specifically recognizes that lives would have been lost if it wasn’t for the dedication and professionalism shown by the rescuers, was also shared with Shetland Coastguard rescue teams, Coastguard Operation Centre staff and Sumburgh helicopter base crew.
Working together they were able to save the life of a young man who had become stranded at the base of the sheer cliffs at Fethaland, on the northern tip of Shetland, on May 9, 2018. He had found himself perched on rocks, in the dark and with a squall surrounding him, in deteriorating weather conditions and with no way of getting himself to safety.
A specialist rope technician descended 80 ft into the dark, while being battered by strong winds and incoming waves to heroically save the man’s life.
Parkes said: “I am immensely proud that HM Coastguard has been entrusted to provide the search and rescue helicopter service from Stornoway for over 30 years.
“In that time, the service has made a vital difference to so many lives, but not one team could do it on their own. That’s why it has given me great pleasure to have also been able to present the Rescue Shield Award, for joint efforts of the helicopter crews, operations staff and coastguard rescue teams on both Stornoway and Shetland to highlight the dedication, commitment and extreme bravery that is demonstrated by them to overcome the most challenging of situations.”
Russ Torbet, director, UKSAR for Bristow Helicopters said: “The combined efforts of the air, land and sea rescuers continue to be vital to communities around the U.K., and today’s event was superb recognition for the dedication shown by our team in the Western Isles.
“We were also able to give guests from around the Highlands and Islands an insight into the workings of the base following completion of a major renovation program, designed to bring our Stornoway site up to the same standard as the new-build bases we’ve opened across the U.K. over the past five years.”
The Coastguard SAR base at Stornoway is operated by a team of 32. Bristow began operating the U.K.’s SAR helicopter service on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) in 2015, after winning the tender in 2013.