Over the last 35 years, the US led Iceland Defense Force (IDF) has saved 310 lives in and around Iceland, reported the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service, RÚV, yesterday.
The 56th Rescue Squadron and its predecessor, Detachment 14, Areospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, have saved Icelanders and people from 15 other nations, using HH – 60 G Pavehawk helicopters for these rescues.
In 1989, the US and Icelandic governments signed an agreement on the cooperation of IDF and the Icelandic Coast Guard.
In 1995, when the Icelandic Coast Guard purchased a helicopter with a similar range as the IDF helicopters, the importance of the role of the 56th Rescue Squadron was reduced and its rescue missions decreased. However, over the last few years Iceland has become increasingly dependent on the US 56th Rescue Squadron. Last year, the 56th Rescue Squadron performed five rescue missions for the Icelandic Coast Guard either because both of the Icelandic helicopters were under repair, or because the Icelandic crews were on leave taking mandatory rest after long flights.
Just last month, the US Rescue Squadron worked in extreme conditions to save the life of a young man whose four wheel drive vehicle had fallen into a 30 meter deep crevasse at glacier Hofsjökull. At that time, both of the Icelandic Coast Guard helicopters were under repair.
For safety measures, the IDF helicopters have also been escorting the Icelandic helicopter on longer flights in the event that the Icelandic helicopter would crash at sea. The second Icelandic helicopter is unable to exceed 150 nautical miles. This means, that when the US Forces leave, the Icelandic Coast Guard will be unable to make air rescues safely except in a limited area that it patrols – or 150 nautical miles of the 670 nautical miles it patrols.
RÚV reports that with the US withdrawing its forces the service level of the Icelandic Coast Guard’s Helicopter Squadron will be seriously reduced.
Icelandic Prime Minister, Halldór Ásgrímsson, told the press last week that buying new helicopters was now a priority.