The day after the axing of Portland’s Coastguard SAR helicopter last week a diving emergency occurred in the area – and it took its replacement 90 minutes to reach the scene, as a well-known Dorset skipper told a 200-strong crowd gathered to commemorate the former service.
Ian Taylor, skipper of the dive-boat Skin Deep, told people at Portland marina waiting for the unveiling of a plaque dedicated to past Portland SAR crews on Saturday (1 July) that the winding-up of the service the previous day was having an adverse effect even as he spoke.
Joining the crowd from his nearby dive-shop, he said: “I’ve got a dive-boat at the moment out in Weymouth Bay with an injured diver on it – they requested a helicopter 40 minutes ago and we still haven’t had a helicopter. I don’t want to put the mockers on today … which is all about saying thank you for the helicopter that was here, but I think what’s going on now is disgraceful.”
His short address, filmed by BBC Spotlight, was warmly applauded.
The injured diver, Marcus Blatchford, had been wreck-diving off Skin Deep when he experienced chest pains and breathing difficulties. Taylor later said that the Coastguard had been informed at 1.40pm but the helicopter had not arrived until 3.10pm – from Cardiff.
He also told Divernet that the skipper had been told by the Coastguard to keep heading east – even though the helicopter was coming from the other direction.
The Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) later said that the helicopter had been on scene within 40 minutes of being tasked, but Taylor told Divernet: “It was 40 minutes once they tasked the helicopter – however, it took 50 minutes before the helicopter was tasked!
“Apart from anything else, who in their right mind would cancel a rescue service during the summer season?” he said to Divernet.
“The Coastguard had been on TV the day before saying that it wouldn’t make a difference, but the very next day it clearly did. I’ve been working here for 21 years and we’ve never had to wait anything like 90 minutes for a helicopter.”
The closure of the Portland SAR service is part of an MCA modernisation drive. The area is now said to be covered from Lee-on-Solent in Hampshire for emergencies east of Portland Bill, and Cardiff in south Wales for incidents further west.
The Portland SAR service, operated by CHC Helicopters, started in 1995 as a civilian service, and covered the area from western Hampshire to south Wales.
The MCA says that its new system is replacing a combination of military and civilian arrangements and that its helicopters, operating from 10 bases, can operate in all conditions and carry out rescues anywhere in the UK.
Blatchford, the diver whose condition had raised the alarm, was found to have suffered a vestibular bend but said to have recovered fully after treatment.
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