15 January 2016
The UK’s Search and Rescue (SAR) coastguard operation is going through a major change at the moment with civilian helicopter company Bristow taking over from the military. A new civilian SAR bases opened in January at Prestwick Airport just outside Glasgow which is taking over from the former base, HMS Gannet.
Bristow Helicopters was awarded the ten-year £1.9 billion UK SAR contract by the Department for Transport in March 2013. By 2017 the service will be delivered from ten bases, strategically located close to areas of high SAR incident rates.
Bristow crews – many former military pilots, many with SAR experience – are using state-of-the-art helicopters, equipped with the latest technology including night vision, mission management and increased onboard medical capabilities. The fleet is exclusively Sikorsky S-92 helicopters at the moment, with AgustaWestland AW189 helicopters becoming available later this year.
The Prestwick base is led by Chief Pilot, Captain Craig Sweeney, a former Sea King Senior Pilot with the Royal Navy’s HMS Gannet Search and Rescue Flight. After more than a decade of service with the Navy’s Commando Helicopter Force, Capt Sweeney moved to Ayrshire to take up his posting in HMS Gannet in 2009 where he served until he joined Bristow in April 2013.
During his military service he was presented with the Air Force Cross by Prince Charles in recognition of his “exceptional levels of leadership, grit and composure” during the rescue of a climber on Beinn Sgulaird, in Argyll, in December 2011.
Captain Sweeney said, “The whole team here at Prestwick feels very privileged to be involved in delivering this vital public service. It is a particular honour for me personally to provide this service to my local community – Prestwick is very much home for me and my family.”