Mountain rescuers will be supported by a police helicopter in certain circumstances after they claimed that their lives were being put at risk.
Nicola Sturgeon revealed the move yesterday as she praised the “vital job” carried out by the rescue teams and vowed to help them to “get the support that they need”.
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The first minister also said that Scottish Government officials had previously raised concerns about support for the mountain rescue teams (MRTs) with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).
The SNP leader’s intervention follows a decision by MRT leaders to speak out about the lack of available helicopter support since military aircraft were replaced by coastguard helicopters on such operations.
Members of Glencoe, Cairngorm, Lochaber and Tayside teams claimed there was an “unwillingness” of agencies to help recover dead bodies from the hills and to help get crew and their gear safely back to base after an operation.
Rhoda Grant, Labour MSP for the Highlands and islands, raised the issue at first minister’s questions in the Scottish Parliament yesterday.
Ms Sturgeon said: “I am aware of concerns that have been raised by independent Scottish Mountain Rescue about the current search and rescue helicopter support arrangements.
“Scottish Government officials have previously raised those issues with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, following earlier correspondence with the teams.
“Police Scotland has legislative responsibility for search and rescue in Scotland, but the levers for change around search and rescue helicopter support remain at United Kingdom government level.
“Police Scotland is introducing its helicopter to assist mountain rescue teams as a last resort for body recovery. I know that Police Scotland has written to independent Scottish Mountain Rescue about the changes and that the response has been positive.”
While insisting that “much of the responsibility lies with the coastguard agency”, Ms Sturgeon added: “We will continue to take action and make the appropriate representations to ensure that mountain rescue teams get the support that they need.”
The MCA pledged to discuss the concerns with the mountain rescuers earlier this week.
After the exchange at Holyrood, Ms Grant said: “I will certainly be keeping track of this, especially as we enter the winter months and a busy period for rescue volunteers.
“I was totally shocked to hear of the lack of back-up from agencies concerned and that the service hasn’t lived up to the promise of being the same or better than what was operating before.”