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Search And Rescue Helicopters

Volume 164: debated on Thursday 11 January 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will institute an inquiry into the incident on 3 January when a search and rescue helicopter from HMS Gannet diverted to Glasgow in the course of a rescue mission in order to pick up a television crew before proceeding to the search area.

The circumstances of the incident have been investigated. On Thursday 4 January, a Royal Navy Sea King helicopter from HMS Gannet was asked to assist a mountain rescue team with a preplanned search operation for three civilians lost on Ben Nevis. Shortly before departure, an ITN camera team asked HMS Gannet if they could be picked up at Glasgow airport and be taken along to film the search. Since Glasgow was on the direct flight path from HMS Gannet to Ben Nevis, authority for this was given with the agreement of the rescue co-ordination centre at Pitreavie on the conditions that carrying the camera team would in no way prejudice the helicopter's ability to carry out its task and that its rendezvous with the mountain rescue team at Fort William would not be delayed beyond the agreed time of 0830. There was considered to be sufficient flexibility in the flight plan for this to be possible and the commitment to pick up the ITN crew was undertaken on this basis.

However, in the event, a radio breakdown delayed the departure from HMS Gannet and the helicopter was some 45 minutes late on arriving at Fort William. The embarkation of the ITN crew at Glasgow airport added only marginally to the delay as weather conditions on the route taken were significantly better than on the normal, coastal route to Ben Nevis. The search was successful and the three civilians were recovered by the helicopter.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is his policy towards search and rescue helicopters carrying journalists and television crews while flying rescue operations.

Our policy is to consider favourably such requests from the media, but only on the condition that their carriage in no way prejudices the rescue mission.