Approaching the end of an era for search and rescue service

The Sea King from RAF Boulmer during its final appearance at Amble Harbour Day on Bank Holiday Monday. Picture by Jane Coltman
The Sea King from RAF Boulmer during its final appearance at Amble Harbour Day on Bank Holiday Monday. Picture by Jane Coltman

Come the end of this month, the yellow helicopters that are such a familar sight in the skies over Northumberland will be no more.

As previously reported, the launch of the civilian UK search and rescue (SAR) helicopter service was marked in February this year at a ceremony held at the new base at Humberside Airport.

Bristow Helicopters Ltd will operate the service for the UK on behalf of HM Coastguard, taking over from RAF and Royal Navy crews such as 202 Squadron at RAF Boulmer.

The company was awarded the 10-year UK contract by the Department for Transport in March 2013 and will deliver the service from ten bases ‘strategically located close to areas of high SAR incident rates’.

As reported by the Gazette in March, the service will cease to be run from RAF Boulmer come the end of this month – Wednesday, September 30.

Meanwhile, the new bases are going live in a phased approach that started on April 1.

The first bases to open were at Humberside – the nearest to north Northumberland along with Glasgow (Prestwick) – and Inverness.

The Prestwick base is due to become operational on January 1, 2016.

At the launch event, the then Minister responsible for the Coastguard, John Hayes, told the Gazette: “I’m absolutely confident that the service the people of Northumberland can rely upon will be undiminished and, as time goes on, with improved technology and improved resources, I think it can be more and more effective in terms of dealing with emergencies.”

Yesterday, an RAF Boulmer spokeswoman said: “A Flt 202 Sqn will conclude SAR operations at RAF Boulmer on September 30.

“UK SAR operations will be the responsibility of the Department for Transport and UK SAR flights transferred to the Maritime Coastguard Agency, contracted to Bristow Helicopter Limited.

“Bristow will provide search and rescue cover for the area currently served by A Flight 202 Squadron RAF Boulmer using Sikorsky S92s and AgustaWestland AW189s helicopters.

“RAF Boulmer will continue with its important role in UK air defence.

“The Station is the home of the UK Air Surveillance and Control Systems (ASACS) Force. 24/7, 365 days a year, Aerospace Battle Managers in the Control and Reporting Centre (CRC) at RAF Boulmer use information from military and civilian radars, Royal Navy ships and RAF Airborne Early Warning aircraft to provide a complete picture of everything that is flying in and around UK airspace.

“Identifying and tracking all aircraft, they can launch RAF Quick Reaction Alert Typhoons to intercept any aircraft that are giving cause for concern.

“RAF Weapons Controllers in the CRC will then direct the Typhoons during the intercept.

“The CRC also provides the UK’s tactical control facility for the combat training of air defence, ground attack and air-to-air refuelling aircraft and participates daily in joint training with the Royal Navy, exchanging air picture information by both digital data link and voice nets with ships at sea.

“RAF Boulmer is also the home of the RAF School of Aerospace Battle Management, which provides Aerospace Battle Management training for all three UK Armed Forces, NATO and other foreign national military personnel.

“With more than 600 students attending some 120 courses a year, the school is a worldwide centre of excellence providing leading-edge battlespace management training and education.”