Sea rescue missions save record number off French coast

Belgian air force rescue helicopters saved a record number of people in difficulty at sea during the past year. 45 people in distress were rescued from the waves of the North Sea. That's a doubling in only two years.

Commander Eline Leurs explains 2020 was a quiet year due to the lockdowns. This year was different.

“It’s especially noticeable that during the past year Belgian rescue choppers picked up people in difficulty, migrants and refugees especially from French waters in the English Channel”.

During the past year Belgian rescue helicopters were scrambled on 71 occasions rescuing 23 people in difficulty at sea off the Belgian coast.  The previous year the figures were lower due to lockdown and the decrease in leisure trips.  In 2020 there were 47 sorties to assist 14 people in difficulty.  In 2019 helicopters were scrambled on 68 occasions to rescue 19 people.

The rescue zone for which the Belgian air force is responsible also partly stretches along the French coast and includes some French waters.  Belgian helicopters also carry out rescue operations here.

During the past year there were 13 interventions to rescue 20 people.  In 2019 the figure was the same with 7 people rescued.  Last year there were none.

“The English Channel is a kind of funnel where water flows more quickly.  This often results in a northern current” says the air force’s Aziz Vanderginste.  “In fine weather the white cliffs of Dover seem close, but what the refugees don’t see are the undercurrents.  If they don’t possess powerful engines, they will be pushed towards Belgian waters”.

Commander Leurs explains the medical condition of those that are rescued is assessed first: “We consider the best course.  If there is no medical emergency and people were rescued in French waters, we contact French police and bring them back to France”.

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