A FORMER Sea King pilot from RNAS Culdrose is returning to the county to lead the new civilian search and rescue service based at Cornwall Newquay Airport.

Chief Pilot Captain Mark Coupland served in the Royal Navy for 18 years as a helicopter pilot and instructor based at RNAS Culdrose.

During his career Mark served aboard aircraft carriers HMS Illustrious and HMS Ark Royal, he latterly served two tours on 771 Squadron where he flew many search and rescue missions and during which time he served as the squadron’s training officer and was awarded the Flag Officer Naval Air Command Commendation.

Since joining Bristow Helicopters in 2002 he has flown SAR missions from the HM Coastguard bases in Stornoway, Sumburgh and from Bristow’s base at Den Helder in the Netherlands where he was chief pilot. He was the company's SAR standards pilot and over the past two years has been part of Bristow’s transition team helping to prepare for the new UK service going live.

The launch of the Newquay civilian UK search and rescue (SAR) helicopter service was marked yesterday (Tuesday 15 December) in a ceremony held at the new Coastguard SAR base.

Captain Coupland said: “The whole team here at the base feels very privileged to be involved in delivering this vital public service and we are looking forward to getting started.

"Today is a significant milestone and we are grateful to all of those who have helped us get here, particularly our military colleagues at RNAS Culdrose and the many other rescue organisations who have taken the time to train with us and share their valuable local knowledge.

“Personally I’m hugely excited to be returning to work in a county where I spent many happy years working from Culdrose. Despite my various postings over recent years Cornwall has remained home to my wife and family. Even while working away from here I continued to fly the Sea King, while attached to 771 squadron at Culdrose as a Royal Navy reservist for the past 14 years.”

Bristow Helicopters Ltd is operating the search and rescue helicopter service for the UK on behalf of HM Coastguard. The company was awarded the ten-year UK SAR contract by the Department for Transport in March 2013, representing a £1.9bn investment by the Government in the UK’s search and rescue helicopter service. By 2017 the service will be delivered from ten bases in all, strategically located close to areas of high SAR incident rates.

The Newquay base will begin SAR operations when crews begin receiving mission from the Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre (ARCC) in January 2016.

Bristow crews are delivering the UK SAR helicopter service on behalf of HM Coastguard with state-of-the-art helicopters, equipped with the latest search and rescue technology including night vision, mission management and increased onboard medical capabilities.

The base was officially opened by Richard Parkes, Director of Maritime Operations at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA). Also in attendance were other search and rescue organisations and invited guests with whom Bristow and HM Coastguard have been working closely, and who have been instrumental in preparing the new service.

Speaking at the launch event Mr Parkes said: “HM Coastguard has been providing search and rescue helicopter services in northern Scotland and southern England for over thirty years. Today I am immensely proud to welcome the Newquay civilian base to the service.

“I would also like to pay tribute to the outstanding work that RNAS Culdrose has carried out over many decades, both inland and out to sea. We will ensure that their legacy is continued”

Samantha Willenbacher, Director of UK Search and Rescue at Bristow Helicopters Ltd, said: “It is an incredibly proud day for us all as we officially mark the launch of the Newquay SAR base. I would like to acknowledge the dedication of 771 SAR Squadron personnel who have delivered an exceptional SAR service, and to underline our commitment to working tirelessly to continuing their legacy.

“I would also like to thank the many other partners who have supported us in reaching this point, not least the team at Cornwall Airport Newquay, the local emergency services and the local community.”

Bristow’s aircraft and crews have been at the Newquay base since the autumn making preparations for the service going live and conducting a raft of training exercises with local search and rescue partners.

Cornwall Airport Newquay’s Al Titterington said, “The operation of search and rescue services from the airport is of vital importance to the region and further integrates Cornwall Airport Newquay as a key asset both regionally and nationally. The geography of the airport makes it an ideal location for this new SAR base, maximising the overland coverage without compromising over sea coverage. I am sure Bristow will provide an excellent service just like their Navy counterparts have done for many years.”