Helicopters can play a valuable role in rescuing people from danger. However, the Irish Air Corps search and rescue service remains underutilised.

The Irish Air Corps maintains three Alouette III single-engine helicopters, an all-purpose aircraft manufactured by the French company Sud Aviation.  The helicopters cost £70 an hour to run and have a basic price of £75,000 each.

All three of the helicopters are based at the Irish Air Corps Headquarters at Baldonnel and in an emergency there is

One helicopter ready to take off at a moment’s notice.

The Alouette III can carry seven people in addition to the typical crew of three, comprised of a pilot, a winch operator and the winchman. 

The crews do their training over the water at Dún Laoghaire. In four years of operations, these crews have rescued 20 people from the sea, boats, cliffs and mountains and carried out a total of 86 search and rescue missions. More than half of these were spent searching for the Aer Lingus Vickers Viscount Flight 712 that came down off Tuskar Rock, County Wexford.  

The Air Corps carried out 138 air ambulance missions transporting patients from hospitals countrywide to the Dublin. The Air Corps also undertakes commercial and military applications.

Commandant Brian McMahon, commander of the helicopter flight believes the helicopters would have much more value if the rescue service was used more frequently. He considers there are two reasons why they are not called out more often.

Firstly, people are not aware of the valuable role helicopters can play in rescuing them from awkward places and secondly, there is confusion over cost and charges.

Where there’s life in danger the helicopter will carry out the rescue and there is absolutely no charge.

The search and rescue cost is carried by the taxpayer. There is a charge for the air ambulance service however, this is a matter between the Department of Defence and Department of Health.

A ‘Newsbeat’ report broadcast on 9 October 1968. The reporter is Cathal O’Shannon.