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Rescuers short on manpower

PUBLISHED: 10:44 03 November 2008 | UPDATED: 21:41 05 July 2010

Over-stretched RAF search and rescue helicopter crews have been unable to respond to some emergency calls in Norfolk and Suffolk because of a lack of manpower, it has emerged.

Over-stretched RAF search and rescue helicopter crews have been unable to respond to some emergency calls in Norfolk and Suffolk because of a lack of manpower, it has emerged.

The two Sea King helicopters based at Wattisham airfield in Suffolk are crewed by members of B Flight 22 Squadron but many of the servicemen have recently been posted overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan, making it difficult to keep a full crew on stand-by.

At worst this means the helicopters cannot go to rescue people stuck on boats or trapped in water and in the last week search and rescue cover for the area was maintained by a unit from east Yorkshire.

The two helicopters perform search and rescue operations covering a huge area from the south coast and Dover into London and across East Anglia to the Wash.

Flt Lt Jean-Marc David of 22 Squadron said: “Sometimes we do not have enough full crew on stand-by so we are limited on what jobs we can do.

“We have got a few detachments in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have got a lack of manpower. Nobody wants the standby to be affected and that is our job.

“We are there to rescue people and people are doing more shifts than they really should do. It is not ideal but everybody is working extremely hard to make sure that we can provide a service that the public expect of us.”

They average more than 10 emergency call-outs a month which can include people being helped, rescued and transferred to hospital.

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “A current shortage of rear winch men at Wattisham was exacerbated by sickness last week and so for two short periods on October 22 and 24 B Flight 22 Squadron search and rescue were restricted to medical evacuation sorties.

“During both these periods search and rescue cover for the area was maintained by adjacent search and rescue units at Leconfield as is standard practice when a unit is airborne on a rescue or temporarily unable to deploy.

“We are working hard to ensure that there are sufficiently trained search and rescue aircrew coming through the Sea King operational conversion unit to ensure that this temporary rear crew shortage can be alleviated as soon as possible.”

The search and rescue squadrons provide 24-hour cover. They maintain a 15-minute readiness state during daylight hours and a 45-minutes readiness state during the hours of darkness.

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