The Portland Coastguard
Helicopter, based at Portland in Dorset, is a SIKORSKY S61N. It has a
crew of 4, consisting of 2 pilots, 1 winchman, and 1 winch operator. All
the captains and winch crew must have had military or coastguard
experience, and have previously served on a dedicated search and rescue
unit. The helicopter has a maximum speed of 131 knots (150 miles per
hour), an endurance of 4 hours, and can seat 19 passengers, although it
can carry up to 35 survivors for short distances.
Included in the state of
the art specifications is auto hover, the ability to fly complex search
patterns using advanced navigational equipment, and a Forward Looking
Infra Red camera, known as FLIR, which is unique to the Coastguard
helicopters. The FLIR equipment is invaluable for searching for persons
or vessels at night and in all weather conditions.
The Portland based
helicopter is responsible for assisting people in an area from Poole Bay
in the East, to Start Point in Devon to the West. This area extends out
to the mid-point of the English Channel incorporating an area of
approximately 4000 square miles.
The helicopter is
operational 12 hours a day (0900 to 2100), 365 days a year, and is
typically airborne within 3 minutes of a request for its service. The
area is covered at night by a helicopter based at Lee On Solent in
Hampshire. The helicopter is controlled by either the Coastguard for
maritime incidents, or the Rescue Co-ordination Centre at Kinloss in
Scotland for civil aviation or military incidents.
The type of emergencies
attended are wide and varied. These include searching for people lost
overboard from ships, vessels on fire, divers with the 'bends', people
stuck on cliffs, evacuating people with various injuries from all types
of vessels, and transferring critically ill patients to specialist
hospitals. As Poole is home to the major Accident and Emergency hospital
for East Dorset, and also the main decompression chamber for the area,
the helicopter is a regular visitor to Poole.