A few thoughts on the new SAR Contract in 2016.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said:

“Experience of front line operations has informed the military decision that the skills required for personnel recovery on the battlefield and in the maritime environment can be sustained without the need for military personnel being engaged in UK search and rescue.”

A really scary comment by the government in defence of the new contract that skills can be updated on the battlefield? Are we planning more conflicts in the future? In reality little money or thought went into SAR and as the Sea King got older and there was no vision within MOD.  Many of our leaders in the military must have seen this coming but as usual they got it wrong. The military SAR crews have been exceptional over the years and I wonder how they feel today?  That will be hidden by the professionalism that is the UK Military and up to the last day they will still be there doing an exceptional job as always. The MOD spin doctors and the High Ranking Officers will be toeing the party line and all is well! It to me is another great military decision that has been made just like that of the great Nimrod debacle  and others like we have aircraft carriers without planes and what is left of the military stretched beyond belief. Apart from that all is well as many of the experts walk away with huge pensions and no shame. “Lions led by donkeys” again?

I am sure that the new contract will work, SAR will make sure it does and much will be made of the great work by all in the past. There will be teething problems as there always is but it will be a new aircraft which is so badly needed.  It will be interesting to see how the new bases work only time will tell.  SAR  and the military helicopters was a huge part of my life and I have great respect for the work of the coastguard contracted helicopters and their crews. There will  be so much to learn with a new aircraft and new skills will be needed not just by the crews but by the SAR Agencies who work with them. I hope all Agencies get trained both at night and in daylight hours with the new aircraft as there will be so much to learn. This will all cost money and I hope it has been properly accounted for in the contracts? Training is vital to ensure that crews and Agencies are current in working in all situations and is a long process.

There will be a few tears when the last Sea King retires and another piece of history is gone. The Government will have great statements ready like the one below. There will be much discussion and bold statements (see below) from faceless people and then it will fade away. Life changes, things move on. 

  “I want to pay tribute to the outstanding service personnel who have displayed such enduring commitment and bravery in RAF and RN search and rescue squadrons. The service they have provided for over 70 years has been exemplary and the country owes them all an enormous debt of gratitude. The decision to cease military involvement in search and rescue in the UK was not made lightly. But with the Sea King nearing its 40th year of service, the time has come to change the way the service is provided and the aircraft used.”

Training at night vital to ensure the safety of all who work in the Rescue enviroment.

Training at night vital to ensure the safety of all who work in the Rescue environment.

Good luck to the new contract, and the new aircraft I hope the Sea  King and the military have a safe and successful last few years of SAR. No doubt there will be a big party when it all ends in 2016, many of the “great and good will attend” I doubt I will get invited. Thanks for some great and scary days in the mountains, we all have such memories of great aircraft, outstanding people and incredible rescues. Long may it live in our memories.

Thanks for all your thoughts on this subject!

Today’s music –  Rhythm & Reel Album  – The Crossing – The Gael

About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer when body slows, loves the wild places.
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17 Responses to A few thoughts on the new SAR Contract in 2016.

  1. Its a real shame as SAR Ops I imagine were a great place to train aircrew in the stress and strains of operational work and I am sure extreme flying. I loved the old Seaking type helicopters for going to work offshore and miss the Sirkosky S62N but also admit that the “new” Seaking the Sirkosky S92 is a great aircraft too and well used already in SAR around the world – why did our military not just upgrade ? You get a real comfort factor in something that is big and roomy inside and you know will float if it comes down to it !!


  2. andy noble says:

    Don’t forget all the engineers shortly to be out of a job, my wife being one of them!

    Also no mention of what happens to the Falklands SAR.


  3. There is the small matter of an independence referendum to take place, and this is not due to begin until after this. Initial comments from the SNP aren’t supportive of this move. Perhaps this matter isn’t done yet.


  4. ptsd17 says:

    I really hope there is plenty of cross over time to allow Bristows to get up to scratch and it’s not just a straight swap. There is also hope that a lot of the military lads will move to Bristows and take their skills with them.
    I remember well Bristows starting SAR in Stornoway in the 90’s. One of their helicopters ditched during a mission to airlift people off of a yacht. No fault was found with the aircraft, and I learned the cause of the ditching was the pilot and copilot were hovering beside the yacht arguing how best to approach due to the mast swinging about, neither of them noticed the aircraft slowly dropping backwards and the tail rotor entered the water taking the helicopter down. That’s where the discipline of the forces stood out, but hopefully Bristows also learnt a valuable lesson that day. Thankfully nobody was injured either.


  5. Simon Willatts says:

    The decision to privatise keeps being couched in terms of needing a new aircraft. This is an irrelevance to draw away from the core of the decision. There is no real reason for the military not to have continued to operate a renewed SAR fleet, if there were appetite for it. The argument that you cannot afford a new helicopter, therefore you will put the whole lot out to contract is awkward. You’re still paying for a new helicopter fleet, albeit spread over many years, and also paying for everything else you always used to in the operating costs, as well as Bristow’s profit margin. It’d be nice if the government and MoD statements would be a little more honest and less misleading about this.

    If the reasons for putting SAR out to contract are sound, state them, don’t mislead the public over a new helicopter fleet.


    • heavywhalley says:

      Very true – if the money had been spent on an upgrade we would still have SAR in public hands, now we wait and see. Just think of all the failed MOD Projects that could have funded this and they still sit and draw pensions and some are still making decisions.


  6. Al Coy says:

    Well Heavy, it was always a matter of time. As the RAF shrank year on year the SAR force became just another career step for many (not me i hasten to add!) and huge amounts of cash were wasted in building HQ’s and empires with consequent jobs for senior officers. When I started in SAR in 1978 the RAF had nine SAR Flights, divided between two Squadrons, each Sqn commanded by a Squadron Leader and the whole shebang run from a green shed (literally) by a Wing Commander based at RAF Finningley .When I left in 19999 we were down to six flights, but each one was commanded by a Sqn Ldr, the Squadrons were commanded (fom their new HQ’s) by a Wing Commander (with a Sqn Ldr deputy!) and the whole ‘force’ had a Group Captain in command with another Sqn Ldr or two to help. Part of the reason for the ‘up-grade’ was to keep RAF St Mawgan open so that their was a job for an Air Vice Marshall!
    I nearly went to work for Bristow in ’86 but instead stayed in the RAF and went to Sea Kings. I’m just a tad surprised that it’s taken so long to fall apart. Good luck to the ‘new’ boys and girls, they have a great machine to play with. I wish I was twenty years younger, my CV would already be there at Bristows!


    • heavywhalley says:

      Al Coy

      Yes mate many saw all that coming? You are right with the jobs for the boys that went daft in our time. The military is still very top heavy even in these days of redundancy.. I am sure any Contractor would have grabbed a pilot of your experience and prowess. As for the new contract it will be full of great people and will work, we had the best days, with the best people.

      Hamish in Glencoe was asking for you I told him you retired as a AVM & you had changed!

      Thanks Al – take care!


  7. Al Coy says:

    sorry for typo’s…..19999?? 😉


  8. Sid Harding says:

    Thanks Dave for your views on another subject that I know is very close to your heart. As an outsider to your world, and with no experience of climbing, I none the less feel your words are spot on. Let us also all hope the way it is being paid for does not not go down the same path as our new hospitals and schools, costing a fortune that we clearly cannot afford! Why was Lossiemouth left out of the choice of bases, or have I got that wrong?


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