Helicopter rescue operations provided by the Southern Peninsula Rescue Squad (SPRS), based at Sorrento, on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, will cease during mid July because of a reduced number of call-outs, high running costs and the retirement of its chief pilot.
SPRS management decided to cease helicopter operations and sell its Bell 206L LongRanger, VH-BLV, during a committee meeting held on May 4, which will bring to an end SPRS’s 34 years of helicopter rescue. SPRS will continue to provide marine search and rescue services to the community using its rescue boat operation.
“Our helicopter has been more than just a search and rescue helicopter,” said Eileen Murray, SPRS president. “It will certainly be a sad day when it makes its last flight from the helipad.”
The growing number and the availability of SAR capable helicopters in the greater Melbourne region, including the commencement of beach and coastal patrols by Life Saving Victoria’s Westpac Life Saver helicopter, has seen the operational requirement for the SPRS helicopter gradually diminish. Since January the helicopter has been called out on SAR missions only twice and it spent the remainder of its flying time on training and public relations exercises. In 2009, the rescue squad flew a total of only 85 hours.
With the retirement of chief pilot John Sonneveld later this year SPRS concluded that it would be almost impossible to attract suitably qualified pilots to fill his position with such low flying hours on offer.
The helipad and fuel supply at SPRS’s Sorrento base will remain available to other EMS and police helicopters. “It’s the committee’s intention to at least initially retain the fuel supply for their use. At the present time there is no other fuel supply available on the southern end of the peninsula.”
SPRS has engaged a broker to handle the sale of VH-BLV on the international market.