The Peak District is to be one of the first regions to be serviced by a new company awarded the contract to provide the UK’s helicopter search and rescue service.
The service used to be provided by the RAF and Royal Navy but from April 1 Bristows will take on the UK contract.
Bristow Group Inc, based in Houston, Texas, has provided search and rescue services in the UK since 1971 with the company operating from Sumburgh on the Shetland Islands and Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides, supporting the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
The company now has the contract to provide all search and rescue helicopter services throughout the UK, starting with a new base at Inverness in Scotland and another in Humberside, from which the Peak District will be covered.
By summer of 2017, Bristow will deliver helicopter rescue services from 10 bases across the UK coast, using a fleet of brand new helicopters.
In January the first Sikorsky S-92 arrived in the Peak District to allow mountain rescue team members from all over the region to familiarise themselves with the new aircraft.
The red and white helicopter replaces the familiar yellow RAF Sea King, which has served the area since 1992.
The S-92 helicopter is the most advanced aircraft in Sikorsky’s civil product line and can reach a speed of 145 knots, an operational radius of 250 nautical miles and the capacity to carry two stretchers, 11 seated persons and a crew of four.
It is equipped with state-of-the-art search and rescue technology, including night vision and more advanced medical capabilities than the Sea King.
Roger Bennett, of Buxton Mountain Rescue Team, said: “Following a full guided tour of the aircraft and all its gadgets the crew explained all the safety and emergency procedures to nearly 60 Peak District volunteer rescuers.
“Then it was time for a practical demonstration and, with the helicopter hovering just around 10 metres off the ground, the rescuers could experience the mighty down-draft of the rotor-blades.
“Next some of the region’s search and rescue dogs had the opportunity for a short flight to experience the noise of the engines and the exposure of a winch-cable lower back to earth.
“Several similar training events are programmed for the next two months with the aim to give every member of the Peak District Mountain Rescue Organisation an overview of the helicopter’s capabilities.
“It is essential to ensure that everyone is trained to work safely in the vicinity of the aircraft in an operational situation before the service goes live on April 1.