Page last updated at 10:50 GMT, Sunday, 29 November 2009

Fresh calls to save night rescues

Chivenor rescue
RMB Chivenor crew winch a resident to safety during the Cumbria floods

Campaigners have renewed their calls to stop proposed cuts to the South West search and rescue service.

RMB Chivenor in Devon could see its night flights being cut in 2012 while RNAS Culdrose will be largely unaffected by the changes.

Campaigners say the involvement of the Chivenor crew in the Cumbria floods has added weight to their calls.

The government says a fleet of new rescue helicopters coming into service will be faster than current aircraft.

The change proposed by the Ministry of Defence means that night cover will be provided by nine bases around the country, instead of the current 12.

'Security blanket'

Devon and Cornwall will be covered at night by RAF Valley in Anglesea, RNAS Culdrose and Solent Coastguard.

Campaigners say this will put lives at risk as a third of callouts responded to by RMB Chivenor are at night.

In 2008, RMB Chivenor, which last year marked its 50th anniversary, had 262 callouts, the second highest among UK rescue bases.

North Devon-based consultant anaesthetist, Dr Gareth Sowden, said: "They are an integral part of the emergency cover in north Devon.

"We have this security blanket around us.

"We have loads of visitors during the summer and emergencies don't just happen during the day.

"I can remember several jobs at night that have been time critical and you have to ask what would have happened without the cover."

North Devon MP Nick Harvey said: "People must not be persuaded by these blandishments from government that the new helicopters will be faster.

"They can't be in two places at once and I am fearful that the level of cover in the West Country will be inadequate at night and that deaths could follow."

Armed forces minister Bill Rammell said: "The new search and rescue service, which starts to roll out from 2012, will use improved helicopters which are 30% faster than our current Sea Kings.

"This enhanced performance means we will be able to respond quicker, over greater distances, and with more areas of overlap between bases.

"As such, we can continue to meet our national and regional night-time Search and Rescue requirements using only 9 of the 12 bases including on nights where there is more than one incident."

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