Waterford’s Rescue 117 saw the biggest increase in missions of the country’s four bases last year, up 33% (from 144 to 188) primarily due to the prolonged good weather, as well as additional work undertaken assisting the national ambulance service, particularly with medevacs of patients. Dublin, by comparison, had 140 missions in 2014 (unchanged).
Statistics for the past two years, obtained by John from the Dept of Transport, consolidate those for the 2010-12 period, which showed Waterford to be the second busiest base after Shannon. The 144 day and night-time missions attended to from Waterford in 2013 was itself up 40% on the previous 12 months. Shannon and Sligo were the most called-upon helicopter units in 2013-14.
Covering an area stretching from south Wicklow through to Glandore and 50 miles southwards, the southeast service has been run on a 24/7 basis since 2002, with coastal and inland assignments to date fast approaching the 1,500 mark. This is in addition to the crew’s routine work with the RNLI, HSE, An Garda Síochana, the Defence Forces, Local Authorities, and many other agencies.
However, the continuation of a full-time, round-the-clock response service from Waterford had been in jeopardy back in 2010 following a very quiet 2008 call-out-wise. But the figures since have shown that to be “an aberration,” says John. “Had cover been curtailed it would have been a mistake — and it would have probably cost lives.” Also, with missions fairly evenly spread between bases in the intervening years, “it goes to prove that Waterford, like the other locations, has been pretty much spot on.”
A world-class upgrade across all four facilities saw a record €67.9 million allocation for the Coast Guard in 2014. Waterford’s new Sikorsky S92 R117 SAR helicopter was launched a year ago. Faster and safer than its predecessor, with an extended range of 270 nautical miles from base, it can fly at higher altitude and in much worse weather.
Also, each new Coast Guard helicopter is capable of carrying up to 22 casualties, enabling them to provide emergency medical transport for the HSE — including bringing patients or organs for transplants or other serious surgical procedures to the UK.