Police have hired a second helicopter pilot to bolster the understaffed Air Operations Unit, which has been down to a single pilot since February.
Richard Morcombe, a U.K. National Police Air Service pilot, will join the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service Air Operations Unit in mid-September. He has more than 20 years of piloting experience and 7,000 flight hours, according to a press release.
The lack of pilots in the air operations unit was highlighted as an issue impacting search and rescue capability in the aftermath of an incident earlier this year where five boaters were reported missing at sea.
The three men and two children were never found.
In the immediate aftermath of the incident police explained they were unable to scramble the helicopter until 9:30 a.m. the morning after the boaters were reported missing, in part, because the pilot’s air time was restricted due to the flying hours he had put in the previous day.
A U.K. Coastguard Commander’s independent report into the incident vindicated the police decisions in that case, but cautioned that staffing levels and equipment in the air and marine units were issues of concern.
“The Police Air Unit currently have one pilot available and although there is a vacant position for a second pilot, this has not yet been filled, which means that the unit is always reliant on the one pilot to fly.
“If he becomes unavailable due to restriction of hours or potentially illness for example, then the aircraft will be sat on the ground and unavailable for search and rescue or any other missions.”
The police statement said Mr. Morcombe served 26 years in the U.K. Army, 14 of which he served by flying Gazelle and Lynx helicopters in combat roles as a pilot in the army’s Air Corps.
Following his career with the National Police Air Service, Mr. Morcombe conducted pilot policing for 13 years from the air service’s East Midlands base.
For four years, before the purchase of the Cayman Islands police helicopter in 2007, Mr. Morcombe flew the aircraft.
He has also flown two relief duty periods in the Cayman Islands, in 2010 and 2011.
Alma Chollette contributed to this report.