Less than a month into the operation of Moray-based Sea Kings being withdrawn from service concerns are being raised over the operation of the replacement civilian SAR services.
The team leader from the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue service has expressed his concern that a training exercise scheduled for Sunday was called off just 15 minutes before the new state-of-the-art AW189s was due to arrive.
It spelled for another frustrating day for the volunteer rescue teams who are anxious that proper training sessions are undertaken with the new aircraft as soon as possible, with Cairngorm team leader Willie Anderson pointing out that his team members are convinced that the Sea King would have flown under the conditions prevailing on Sunday.
However, the new SAR contract holders Bristow insist that the late call off was a safety measure imposed after the Met Office predicted ‘triggered lightening’ conditions in the area where the training was to take place.
Mr Anderson said: “All the guys in the team were absolutely convinced that the Sea King would have flown, it was a blue-sky day with no wind – but apparently triggered lightening prevented their aircraft from flying.
“We understand that downwash from the rotors is much strong than with the Sea King and we want to experience that for the first time in a training situation and not in a live rescue.”
However the chief pilot at the new Inverness SAR base insisted the call of was necessary after rare conditions had been predicted. Captain John McIntyre said: “We called off the exercise because of a Met Office forecast for triggered lightening in the mountain rescue area and it will be rescheduled at the earliest opportunity.”
Captain McIntyre insisted that there was no question of the service not answering emergency calls: “We continued to respond to call outs in these conditions and conducted two live rescues.”
Meanwhile efforts are continuing in Moray to raise sufficient funding to make a bid to purchase one of the retired Sea King helicopter as a permanent display in the region.
A series of online auctions are taking place as part of that effort, with the Morayvia group this week offering up one of a limited edition of nine model Sea Kings that was flown on the final mission by 202 Squadron from RAF Lossiemouth last month.
Bids can be placed for the model, which has been signed by Wing Commander J Heald, OC of 202 Squadron as well as former Sea King crew members can be placed on EBay.