New £40m helicopters give coastguards in Lee-on-the-Solent a lift

Maritime & Coastguard Agency is getting a new search and rescue helicopter
Maritime & Coastguard Agency is getting a new search and rescue helicopter

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A LIFE-SAVING service is to be boosted by the introduction of two state-of-the-art rescue helicopters worth a total of £40m.

The HM Coastguard will this month welcome the first of two new AW139 helicopters to its base in Lee-on-the-Solent.

Painted in red and white, the new craft will replace the service’s current AW139s in providing search and rescue coverage across the south coast.

It is part of a major £1.9bn deal which will help to revamp the coastguard’s services across its seven bases.

Damien Oliver, assistant director of aviation at the agency, said the new aircraft were a vast improvement on previous models.

‘These are bigger aircraft and can fly longer than the AW139s,’ he told The News.

‘They can fly in all weathers which is something the other helicopters could not do.’

The new helicopters will have a range of 200 nautical miles.

They feature a host of new kit, including hi-tech HD infrared cameras, able to pin point a stranded person at sea or on land.

The first AW189 will be introduced in April and will ‘seamlessly’ replace the older aircraft, said Mr Oliver.

He said: ‘People can be reassured that the life-saving services we provide will carry on and will continue to improve.’

He added rescue crews will be receiving full training, which included how to use new night-vision goggles – a first for the south coast.

Gosport Borough Council leader Councillor Mark Hook welcomed the news and said: ‘The Solent is a very busy stretch of water, so this is excellent news for everyone who uses the water and the local beaches.’

Keith Thomas, chairman of Gosport & Fareham Inshore Rescue Service, was excited by the announcement.

He said: ‘In 2016 we worked closely with the team at Lee-on-the-Solent on a number of rescues – notably helping airlift a seriously ill woman from Spitbank Fort on August bank holiday Monday.

‘The work the helicopter rescue team does in the Solent area – and further afield – is absolutely vital and as their local independent lifeboat station we look forward to helping them with their training and continuing to support them in their lifesaving work.’