A large number of flights by military Sea Kings are for rescues of climbers and walkers

A large number of flights by military Sea Kings are for rescues of climbers and walkers

The number of rescue missions carried out by the RAF and Royal Navy search and rescue teams in the first six months of 2011 was the lowest for six years.

Figures released today by Defence Analytical Services and Advice for the Ministry of Defence show there were 870 callouts between January and June, 118 fewer than the same period last year.

The statistics include flights by the Sea King helicopters from eight bases around Britain, along with missions undertaken by the four RAF mountain rescue teams.

Although the primary purpose of the military search and rescue teams is to help aircrew in difficulty, a large proportion of their work is in civilian rescues of climbers and walkers on the UK’s mountains, hills and cliffs. About half the Royal Navy’s missions from HMS Gannet in Ayrshire are mountain rescues.

The six-month figure was the lowest since 2005. A total of 701 people were ‘moved’ by RAF and Royal Navy teams and crews – defined as transporting from a hostile to a safe environment or medical facility. It also includes emergency transfers of casualties between hospitals.

The figures do not include the missions flown by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s helicopters based at Stornoway on Lewis, Sumburgh in Shetland, Portland and Lee-on-the-Solent. The Shetland and Stornoway bases operate Sikorsky S92 helicopters, and the Lee-on-the-Solent and Portland bases operate AgustaWestland AW139s. The Portland helicopter operates for 12 hours each day.

The entire search and rescue helicopter operation was due to be privatised under a £7bn contract until irregularities were found in the bidding process of the successful consortium Soteria.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said a short-term contract for up to five years will be sought for the Coastguard aircraft, and that the military Sea Kings would be withdrawn from service in 2016.

All military search and rescue flights are carried out under the control of the Aeronautical Rescue Co-ordination Centre at RAF Kinloss in Moray, which has been earmarked for closure by Defence Secretary Liam Fox.

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