ORCADIANS are the first to tell you that Orkney meat is the best in the country but yesterday a rescue helicopter pilot’s fondness for the islands’ premium beef landed him in trouble when he was spotted stopping off to pick up a consignment at the end of a training exercise.
The unidentified pilot of the CHC-operated helicopter, based at Sumburgh on Shetland, has been suspended after a video, showing the aircraft landing in a field close to a butcher’s shop on neighbouring Orkney, was posted on YouTube.
The helicopter was filmed by mobile phone landing in the field near the wholesale butchers ER&T Craigie at Tankerness in the east of mainland Orkney. Two members of the crew are seen leaving the aircraft to pick up what is alleged to have been a parcel of beef from men standing at the edge of the field, wearing butcher’s aprons.
Once the consignment, which reportedly contained fillet steak and roasting joints of silverside, was safely delivered, the crew members climbed back into the helicopter and took off.
The helicopter is operated by CHC Helicopters on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).
A spokeswoman for CHC Helicopters said: “We can confirm that a pilot has been suspended pending the results of a formal investigation. We expect high standards of professionalism from all our employees and if we find these have not been met, we will take the appropriate action.
“While the aircraft was previously engaged in a training exercise, it was operating a non-revenue flight at the time of the incident in question.”
A source at the helicopter company stressed that the helicopter crew had completed a training exercise in the area when the incident happened.
The source said: “There are no cost implications for the MCA or the taxpayer. The aircraft had completed the training exercise and therefore all costs are met by CHC as they usually are during non-operational flying.”
An MCA spokeswoman said: “We are aware of an incident involving a coastguard helicopter based at Shetland and have asked our contractor, CHC (Canadian Helicopters Corporation) to investigate as a matter of urgency. The MCA regards any misuse of these assets as completely unacceptable and awaits the outcome of this investigation.”
But Thorfinn Craigie, the butcher who delivered the order, defended the pilot last night.
He said: “I think the whole thing has been totally blown out of proportion. The guys are doing a fantastic job. They risk their necks every day of their working lives to save folk. I am absolutely gutted. The guys did absolutely nothing wrong. We are only a matter of miles from the airport and on the flight path.
“They made no detour at all. If anything they were trying to save some money I would say. It took a minute and half to land, get the stuff and go. They weren’t wasting time – they were just in, out and away.”
Mr Craigie added: “There’s no waste of time And I just can’t believe it. I think it’s absolutely horrendous.”
But David Stewart, the Labour MSP for the Highlands, criticised the pilot.
He said: “Clearly the coastguard service give a magnificent service to the Highlands and Islands and I am a tremendous admirer of the work and the dedication that they have. But there is a serious point here. We want to be clear that the use of this coastguard [helicopter] is for operational reasons and not for what is frankly seen as quite trivial reasons.”
The mobile phone footage, posted on YouTube, has now been removed.