Sumburgh SAR helicopter base passes thousand-mission milestone

The HM Coastguard search-and-rescue (SAR) helicopter base at Sumburgh has surpassed a major milestone – completing 1,000 missions since the civilian service began operating in 2013.

The 1,000th mission saw the crew at the Sumburgh SAR helicopter base attend a medical evacuation from an offshore facility in the North Sea. Bristow Photo

In 2019 alone, the base responded to 198 distress calls, culminating in 232 people rescued and 470 flying hours.

On average, the 31 crew members at Sumburgh attend 100 to 175 jobs a year. They can be involved in a variety of events and incidents, including winching people to safety from the sea and from boats, people falling from cliffs, injured walkers, road accidents, and hospital transfers.

The 1,000th tasking saw the crew – capt Roger Sherriff, co-pilot Pete Richardson, winch operator Rob Glendinning and winchman Marty Davis – attend a medical evacuation from an offshore facility in the North Sea.

Notable missions in the run-up to the 1,000th call also included the rescue of 15 people from a fishing boat at Vee Skerries, on the west coast of Shetland. The crew of the Coelleira made a distress call after running onto rocks and the Sumburgh crew attended, with support from the RNLI and the Lerwick Coastguard base.

All 15 of the vessel’s crew were winched to safety by the Coastguard helicopter team and were later transferred to Gilbert Bain Hospital in Lerwick.

Capt Stuart Cunliffe, chief pilot at Sumburgh, said: “Our team can be called out at any time to respond to a range of incidents, often in challenging conditions in some of the harshest weather the Islands and North of Scotland has to offer.

“Shetland is a unique and dynamic location, and the year-round training we undertake ensures we are ready to respond. In addition to our rescue role, we also provide vital support to the other emergency services, with island transfers a key part of what we do.”


In November 2019, the Sumburgh crew was joint recipients, alongside colleagues from Shetland-based Coastguard Rescue Teams, of the prestigious Department for Transport (DfT) Rescue Shield by Brian Johnson, chief executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. The team was recognized following its significant involvement in the challenging rescue of a teenager from the base of a 120-foot cliff in Shetland.

The Rescue Shield is the highest national accolade awarded by the DfT to Her Majesty’s Coastguard teams which have performed the most outstanding rescue of the year. It’s the sixth time that Shetland-based teams have been awarded the shield.

The HM Coastguard search-and-rescue helicopter service is operated by Bristow Helicopters Limited on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

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