Coast Guard saved 730 people during a record-breaking year
THE Irish Coast Guard completed a record 904 missions last year, an increase of 15pc on the previous year, making it the busiest year in the past decade.
As part of these, 730 people were moved to safety, often in challenging weather conditions.
The Coast Guard's Shannon-based helicopter had a particularly busy year, completing 310 missions, the highest number on record from any single base.
The Irish Coast Guard service is delivered from four bases, in Dublin, Shannon, Sligo and Waterford, in partnership with CHC Helicopter which provides helicopters, crew and maintenance services on behalf of the Coast Guard.
The company was awarded the 10-year, €500m contract in 2010 to provide search and rescue (SAR) services on behalf of the Irish Coast Guard.
Last year, the Sligo base recorded 277 missions, an increase of 18pc, while the Waterford-based helicopter took part in 187 missions, a 32pc increase on 2013. The Dublin base completed 130 missions.
CHC's general operations manager for search and rescue services (SAR), Chris Hodson, said high aircraft availability was one of the reasons behind the high number of missions.
He said: "CHC operates one of the world's largest and most sophisticated SAR networks, and we continue to invest in our fleet and in our bases.
"For example, in the past 30 months we have replaced the Sikorsky S-61 fleet with five new-technology Sikorsky S-92s."
As well as allowing longer range and improved cruising speeds, the new fleet is equipped with enhanced mission equipment, including forward-looking infra-red low-light cameras, 'night sun' searchlights and satellite communications.
Mr Hodson said CHC had also invested in its facilities, and had improved the efficiency of its engineering processes. Major maintenance inspections are now completed in half the time at the Shannon base, meaning helicopters could spend more time in the air serving people.
The Sligo-based CHC search and rescue crew were awarded the Frederick L Feinberg award in 2013 for outstanding achievement for a mission completed in the Bluestack Mountains in Donegal. The rescue involved hovering near a cliff face for 20 minutes above a 365m sheer drop in severe weather, with darkness falling.
The same mission was also recognised by Sikorsky with its 'Winged-S Rescue Award'.
Director of the Irish Coast Guard Chris Reynolds paid tribute to the crews.
He said: "I want to thank all the Coast Guard crews at all our bases for their fantastic work throughout the year, moving people from places of danger to places of safety, day and night, winter and summer."