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When disaster strikes at sea, every second counts in bringing those on board to safety. Locating boat passengers quickly – especially in choppy seas – can mean the difference between life and death.

Fisher folk, sailors and cruisers alike will be better protected on the water thanks to the launch of a new helicopter service.

Calvin Air Helicopters has pledged to lend a hand to the Antigua and Barbuda Search and Rescue (ABSAR) in the event of an emergency.

Modern technology plays a crucial role in finding vessels in distress, the company’s director of aviation, Mark Fleming, told Observer.

“If a boat goes missing, ABSAR will try and figure out where it is using their software. They can then give us the coordinates and we would head out to that general area,” he explained.

“Up in the air you have a much better vantage point to look. We would start flying a sort of grid pattern to try and locate the vessel. Once we see it, we will call in the GPS coordinates so ABSAR can go directly to the scene to assess.”

Fleming said the helicopter’s high speeds mean it can quickly reach people in a disaster.

“What’s so important is being able to locate the vessel as soon as possible, because once it starts sinking and goes below the surface it’s near impossible to spot by boat; you have to be extremely lucky or know exactly where it is,” he continued.

“With an aircraft flying at around 500ft you can see, on a good day, 30-plus miles so you can look for signals like brightly coloured life jackets and then call in the coordinates for the boat to come in and pick people up,” Fleming added.

As well as catastrophes at sea, the helicopter will also help with emergency medical transfers. Earlier this year, it airlifted an injured construction worker in Barbuda to hospital in Antigua.

The state-of-the-art Airbus EC130 is said to be the gold standard in helicopters and a first for the Caribbean.

Company owner Calvin Ayre described it as the “best of its breed in all-purpose helicopter operations”.

The firm will also offer luxury charters, island hops and scenic tours, plus aerial photography and megayacht support. Headquartered at VC Bird International Airport, it has two heliports – one in Fort Road and the other in Orange Valley.

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