SOUTH Dorset MP Richard Drax has warned that a substitute service for the axed Portland Coastguard helicopter will ‘fall short’ of requirements.
Mr Drax spoke after meeting with a representative from the Department for Transport and Mike Imlach, director of European operations for Bristow, the company that has won the new government contract to run national search and rescue helicopter services.
Mr Drax said although he believed that Bristow would do its job well, Portland helicopter base – which is threatened with closure in 2017 – was ‘extremely important’ to life-saving missions along the south coast.
He said the government had been ‘repeatedly warned’ that there was a ‘massive hole’ at the centre of their calculations.
The helicopter base is being scrapped in a bid to save money.
Mr Drax said he was very grateful to Mr Imlach for meeting him at Westminster.
He said: “I have absolutely no problem with Bristow or Mr Imlach. Bristow is an outstandingly professional and well-run company and I have no doubt that it will discharge its duties supremely well.
“The problem is that those duties, which were drawn up and specified by the DfT, fall short of what is needed.
“Twenty five per cent of all call outs in the UK happen in our area. All of those must be attended to within what the emergency services call the ‘Golden Hour’.
“That is the first hour, after which casualties’ chances of survival decrease with time.”
Mr Drax said that ‘regrettably’ the new arrangements meant two alternative helicopters from Lee-on-Solent in Hampshire and Culdrose in Cornwall would take around 40 to 55 minutes to start up and arrive on scene.
Mr Drax said: “The likelihood of anyone in the water surviving is therefore, correspondingly lower.
“Bristow helicopters tendered for a contract which had 10 helicopter bases, rather than the current 12. They won the contract to run those 10 bases and I am sure they will do that to the best of their ability.
“But I felt it was important to explain just what we were losing at Portland and exactly how much harder it will be for Bristow to cover our area effectively.”
He added: “I did make it clear to the representative from the DfT that any loss of life as a result of closing Portland would be seen as a complete dereliction of duty by the DfT. They have been warned repeatedly that there is a massive hole at the centre of their calculations – yet they have persisted with this plan.”
A petition of more than 100,000 signatures backing calls for the helicopter base to be kept will soon be delivered to 10 Downing Street.