China's search and rescue fleet set to expand

London
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China Rescue & Salvage (CRS) is celebrating the tenth anniversary of its first search and rescue mission.

The rescue of an injured sailor was undertaken in a Sikorsky S-76A, shortly after two of the helicopters were deployed to Guangdong province, near Hong Kong, in May 2003.

Since then, the fleet has expanded to include 10 S-76s, primarily C+ and C++ models, four Eurocopter EC225s plus three AS365Ns and three Harbin Y-12 twin turboprops, together with a significant surface fleet of patrol, rescue and salvage vessels.

The CRS air service covers China's entire coastline, with 11 bases stretching from Dalian in the northern Liaoning province to Sanya, Hainan province, in the south.

About 80 aircrew at the bases are supported by 90 ground crew and 36 support staff. In the early days, instructors from the Hong Kong Government Flying Service were contracted to provide crew training. However, the service is now self-sufficient.

In addition to maritime rescue, CRS is routinely drafted in to provide SAR services at major events such as the Beijing Olympics, Shenzou space programme launches and, most recently, the Sichuan province earthquake in April.

With the number of rescue missions approaching 2,300, about 1,800 lives have been saved by the helicopter crews. Rapid growth in the service is expected during the next five years, with the fleet building to include 30 S-76-family rotorcraft.