SIC probe after helicopter claim
An incoming emergency helicopter smashed a car window and is thought to have hurled a parasol through the air into the grille of a van at South Lochside on Sunday morning.
The incident also resulted in a birdhouse being blown over in the garden of South Lochside residents Gail and Sandy McMillan. The previous night, it is claimed a TV was blown off a dresser in an upstairs bedroom of the McMillans’ house by an incoming helicopter.
Shetland Islands Council officials have been tasked to investigate the damage, which is just the latest in a number of incidents blamed on the search and rescue helicopters operated by Bristow Helicopters.
Bristow Helicopters’ legal department is processing an insurance claim for the car with the smashed window.
According to South Lochside residents, parked trailers have been blown around, sometimes onto the main road. Mr McMillan’s son Gary had his motorbike trailer blown into a lamp post and damaged on another occasion. Some people have taken to securing their trailers to prevent them “wandering”.
More concerning are the showers of stones that are said to be kicked up by the downdraft and which could be dangerous to pedestrians, especially children.
Mr McMillan this week described the noise of the helicopter as “unbearable” and has invited councillors to witness an emergency landing for themselves, in order to get a full picture of “what exactly goes on”.
Other people out walking their dogs on Sunday morning had expressed their shock at the sheer noise and power of the helicopter as it flew overhead as well as the debris kicked up by its downdraft.
Mr McMillan has fought a long-running battle against the use of the Clickimin emergency landing site and has been monitoring noise levels that he says exceed regulations. Along with other residents, he also claims that most of the patients flown in to Clickimin walk off the helicopter and are not the emergency cases stipulated in the agreement between the SIC and the emergency services.
SIC convenor Malcolm Bell said that a balance had to be struck between nuisance to the residents and the ability of the emergency services to land urgent cases in an appropriate manner. He said that South Lerwick councillors were also concerned to hear of the latest incidents.
He said: “In terms of damage I have asked council officials to look into the situation with Bristows and the coastguard. It is clearly not acceptable when helicopters landing for purposes of medical emergency cause damage to property.
“It is up to the medical professionals involved, along with the crew, to make a decision on where the helicopter lands in terms of the welfare of the patient.”
Mr Bell said that there was temporary planning permission for the Clickimin landing site and one of the stipulations was for emergency use only.
He said that there was no question of the goodwill of local residents towards the use of Clickimin, but things became more problematic when “rotations” increased.
As far as noise levels went, that is being monitored at Clickimin and findings will be reported to the planning committee in due course, Mr Bell was unwilling to speculate on the results before that.
He said in a statement yesterday: “We recognise the concerns that have been expressed to us by residents about helicopter landings. The emergency landing site is a vital public asset for people in Shetland and those either visiting or working around our shores and it’s important that we have it as close to the hospital as possible.
“Noise monitoring equipment is in place, as a condition of the planning permission for the site. Discussions are underway with the parties involved to see what can be done to improve the management of helicopter landings and to minimise the impact that this will have on those living in the area. The disturbance by occasional helicopter landings has to be balanced against the number of lives that may be saved by its use.”
Mr Bell said Clickimin landing site was about as far from houses as the landing site at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, which probably experienced far more helicopter traffic.
Tingwall airport was also used by the SAR helicopter landing a patient this week. However out of hours, it takes longer to properly man and prepare Tingwall for emergency use, plus it is further away from the hospital, said Mr Bell.
Bristow Helicopters said that there had been a productive meeting this week between the council, the coastguard, Bristow Helicopters and others, and helicopter crews had put forward their own recommendations.
The company said there was no question that Clickimin is only used for life and death situations and patients did not need to be in a visibly serious condition to be considered an emergency.
The company issued the following unattributed statement: “Bristow Helicopters Limited operates this vital life-saving search and rescue service on behalf of HM Coastguard. Our primary concerns are the safety of the casualties, our crew, the local community and our aircraft, and we take this into consideration when determining which available landing site to use when on a tasking.
“While we fully understand the concerns of local residents, the Clickimin landing site is the current allocated emergency landing site (ELS). We can assure residents that the helicopter crews only use the Clickimin ELS in life or death situations to affect a quicker transfer to the hospital than the landing sites at Sumburgh and Tingwall can provide.
“Bristow and HM Coastguard are working with Shetland Islands Council regarding the Clickimin ELS. A meeting has taken place this week and recommendations were put forward by the helicopter crew for improving the use of the site and in order to address residents’ concerns.”