Oscar Charlie name to stay

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For many years the name has been synonymous with helicopter search and rescue operations around Shetland.

Hundreds of children have stared awestruck at the skies or during lifeboat gala days and the like with the words: “Look! It’s Oscar Charlie!”

So it was fitting that those two words will remain, after today’s official naming ceremony of Bristow’s state-of-the-art Sikorsky S-92.

It is doubtful if “Mike Victor” or “Papa Tango” would have had the same effect. In any case, technically the name of the aircraft in question is G-MCGC, which by traditionally taking the last two letters would have made it “Golf Charlie”.

Community representatives, local politicians and other invited guests assembled at Bristow’s hangar at Sumburgh Airport for the ceremony.

The were welcomed by Bristow’s UK director of search and rescue Samantha Willenbacher, who said the company was aware of the affectionate way that Oscar Charlie had come to be viewed by the community during its long years of service.

She said: “That is why it made sense for us to carry forward the name to our new S-92 aircraft. We are honoured to once again be delivering the search and rescue service for these islands and we hope to see the new Oscar Charlie continuing that legacy for many years to come.”

The name was unveiled jointly by Sumburgh chief pilot Jimmy Livitt and isles MP Alistair Carmichael, who removed a strategically placed Shetland flag on the side of the helicopter.

 

Bristow chief pilot Capt Jimmy Livitt and isles MP Alistair Carmichael shake hands after unveiling the name. Photo: Dave Donaldson

Bristow chief pilot Capt Jimmy Livitt and isles MP Alistair Carmichael shake hands after unveiling the name. Photo: Dave Donaldson

Mr Carmichael hailed the vitally important role of the SAR service across the country. He said: “It is even more important in an island community like ours, where many people have to face the challenges of the sea on a daily basis.”

He said he was pleased to see that the name would remain. “Frankly you could name this whatever you wanted but everyone would still refer to it as Oscar Charlie.

“We have witnessed some incredible acts of bravery and selflessness over the years. This is one of our lifeline services in the purest sense of the word.”

Maritime and Coastguard Agency chief executive Sir Alan Massie spoke of the vast sea area and many hundreds of miles of coastline covered by the service. “We take it extraordinarily seriously,” he said.

Sir Alan highlighted the enormous number of rescues carried out over the years, including high-profile examples such as the Braer sinking, the Piper Alpha disaster and the “Russian ship whose name I couldn’t possibly pronounce!”

That of course was the Ludohods, where Bristow’s crew set the record of 32 survivors being rescued in one lift.
There were 158 lives saved last year, Sir Alan said, and already this year there had been 34.

There was also a short speech from Capt Clark Broad, the last pilot to fly the original Oscar Charlie.

Ms Willenbacher said it had been hoped to make a special presentation to Sumburgh engineer Gerald Flaws, a “local legend” who had been with the company for 40 years. Sadly Mr Flaws was not present, however, and she joked that maybe he had got wind of what was in store.

Bristow Helicopters Ltd has a long association with Shetland. The original Oscar Charlie, a Sikorsky S-61N, was operated from 1985 until 2007. The company began delivering the SAR service again last year after winning back the contract.

A former wartime pilot, the late Alan Bristow, established the company in 1955. It is currently the leading provider of SAR services in the country and has flown over 15,000 missions, during which over 7,000 people have been rescued.

Bristow has also served the offshore oil transport industry in the UK for almost 60 years.

About Jim Tait

Jim Tait is news editor at The Shetland Times.

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