Sjöfartsverkets räddningshelikopter Lifeguard 007 (AW 139 SE-JRN). Foto: Johan Nilsson/TT.
Sjöfartsverkets räddningshelikopter Lifeguard 007 (AW 139 SE-JRN). Foto: Johan Nilsson/TT. Credit: Johan Nilsson/TT

Arctic rescue chopper comes under fire from critics

The purchase of a new and much touted search-and-rescue helicopter for Sweden's arctic north has been criticized after the aircraft failed to respond in time to a fatal plane crash this last month.

The helicopter was bought by the Swedish Maritime Administration and stationed on Sweden's Baltic coast in the city of Umeå. The agency claimed the helicopter could be up in the air within 15 minutes to respond to an emergency.

But when a mail plane carrying two people crashed in the mountains of Swedish Lappland in the early morning hours of January 8, the AgustaWestland AW139 took a full 80 minutes to lift off and in the end never reached the crash site. The pilot decided to turn back after a warning light regarding fuel temperature came on.

Swedish Television's investigative news program Uppdrag Granskning reports the helicopter was said to be suited for arctic conditions. 

Officials don't deny the response time was long and said it was wrong to publicize the craft's response rate as 15 minutes. They also said the conditions for the rescue were less than ideal.

"In this case it is about the darkness, winter, being middle of the night, as I said, and mountain terrain that is a special terrain that requires that a lot of preparation," the helicopter unit's head Mowgli Halléhn told the program.

Two other helicopters were able to respond much quicker. An emergency medical service helicopter from Gällivare County was in the air after 37 minutes and a Norwegian ambulance helicopter stationed in Evenås took off within 10 minutes of receiving the distress call.

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