Cornwall's eyes were drawn upwards this morning as five Sea King helicopters based a Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose flew in formation.
The Search and Rescue Squadron carried out the unusual formation to celebrate its 76th year, and to thank the county for its continued support.
The five four-man crews were extremely touched by the number of people who made the effort to come out and give them a wave during their 150 mile tour of the coast.
The Squadron is capable to operating within a 200 nautical mile radius of RNAS 24 hours a day, and carries out more than 200 rescues a year.
Their tasks include plucking sailors from sinking ships, airlifting casualties to hospital and assisting police in carrying out aerial searches.
Every year they save many lives in some of the most hazardous conditions imaginable, often putting their own lives at risk.
This year marks the Squadron’s last birthday before it hands over its search and rescue duties at the end of the year.
771 Squadron flew around the coast from Helston to Land's End, up to Newquay and over Truro, before flying back to the Lizard via Falmouth.
Their assistance to mariners in distress has gained them awards and bravery medals, for rescues including the Fastnet race of 1979, the Boscastle Floods of 2004, the MSC Napoli in January 2007 and more recently aiding the crews of the stricken ‘Panamera’ and ‘La Sillon’.
As part of the Autumn Statement, the Chancellor is to announce VAT refunds for Search and Rescue and Air Ambulance charities alongside £7.5 million extra support for air ambulances.
The VAT refunds will be worth £25 million over 5 years.
It is in response to the service the UK’s Search and Rescue and Air Ambulance charities provide, volunteering their time and expertise to support to emergency services.
At the moment, most Search and Rescue and Air Ambulance charities cannot claim VAT back on their search and rescue activities but this means they will all be able to apply for VAT refunds for them as of 1 April 2015.
There has been a major shake-up of the search and rescue services. Despite vigorous campaigns, operations will move out of Portland, Chivenor and Culdrose to a new base at Newquay Airport.
The service will be run by a private company, Bristow, which is based in the US. It will mean that from 2015, 22 new helicopters will operate from ten locations around the UK. The Dorset coast will be covered by a base at Leigh-on-Solent.
David Laws, MP for Yeovil, has today congratulated AgustaWestland on securing an important role in the delivery of a new contract which will secure jobs for the company, including at its Yeovil base.
The contract, details of which were confirmed today by the Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, will see the company provide helicopters, equipment and technical support as part of a 10 year Search & Rescue delivery agreement.
The new agreement confirms that AgustaWestland will deliver 11 of its new generation AW189 helicopters as part of future Search and Rescue operations.
The AW189 model uses the most advanced technology and will replace Westland’s own Sea King model in existing Search and Rescue services.
Stephen Gilbert, Lib Dem MP for St Austell and Newquay says it's a 'step forward in the development of Newquay Airport':
Commenting on today’s announcement by the Transport Secretary that Search and Rescue services will move from RNAS Culdrose to Newquay Airport by 2017, the West Cornwall MP, Andrew George, said:
The Department for Transport has said that under the new contract helicopters will be able to reach a larger area of the UK Search and Rescue region within an hour of take-off than is currently possible.
It added that, based on historic incident data, it is estimated there will be an overall improvement in flying times to incidents of around 20 percent (from 23 to 19 minutes).
Presently, approximately 70 percent of high and very high-risk areas within the UK SAR region are reachable by helicopter within 30 minutes. Under the new contract, approximately 85 percent of the same area would be reached within this time frame.
Half of the new fleet will be built at AgustaWestland in Yeovil. The contract will have a significant impact on the UK supply chain, providing and sustaining jobs and apprenticeships.
Under the new contract, 22 state-of-the-art helicopters will operate from 10 locations around the UK.
Ten Sikorsky S92s will be based, two per site, at Stornoway and Sumburgh in Scotland, and at new bases at airports in Newquay in Cornwall, Caernarfon in Wales and Humberside.
Ten AgustaWestland AW189s will operate, two per site, from Lee on Solent and a new hangar at Prestwick Airport, and new bases which will be established at St Athan, Inverness and Manston airports
All bases will be operational 24 hours a day.
The new contract will be managed by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in the same way as the existing contract that operates the Coastguard helicopter bases on the south coast and on the Western and Shetland Isles.