PORTLAND’S coastguard search and rescue helicopter has been saved.

The helicopter’s future has been secured under a new contract that could last until 2018, the government has confirmed.

The future of the island’s helicopter Rescue 106 has been under threat since a proposed £6 billion contract to provide new search and rescue (SAR) helicopters around the coast collapsed in February.

The current agreement runs until 2013 but transport secretary Philip Hammond has announced that a new “interim” contract will be set up to continue the service for up to five years.

What will happen after that expires remains undecided.

Mr Hammond said the new contract will be similar to the arrangements currently in place while consideration is given ''to the long-term provision of search-and-rescue.”

The Portland helicopter is being kept alongside those based at Lee-on-Solent and at Shetland and the Isle of Lewis on Scotland. And the news that the helicopter is remaining on the island has been greeted by community leaders and families of those rescued.

South Dorset MP Richard Drax welcomed the decision.

He said: “It’s a key part of the search and rescue element of our part of the world and it is incredibly busy.”

While the actual helicopter itself is being kept the coastguard control centre on Weymouth Harbour is still in doubt due to plans for new “super centres” which could control the local coastguard services from further away.