New helicopter plugs national security gaps

Existing police helicopter may also need to be replaced

A new $9 million, state-of-the-art helicopter will help ensure the national security of the Cayman Islands, according to police commissioner Derek Byrne.

The commissioner welcomed the arrival of the new aircraft, which touched down in Grand Cayman Thursday, saying it would be used as the “eyes in the sky” to target drug traffickers as well as for search-and-rescue operations around the islands.

He said a drug bust in which 900 pounds of marijuana was confiscated from armed traffickers in Cayman’s waters last week showed the scale of the threats facing the island.

“Last week certainly confirmed our concerns that we had outlined to the National Security Council that to be without a helicopter could create security gaps that could be exploited by criminal elements,” he said.

The Joint Marine Unit successfully intercepted the drug boat in last week’s incident, but the new helicopter will increase Cayman’s capability to target drug dealers, Byrne says.

“We have state-of-the-art equipment and we will be protecting our borders,” he said.

Byrne praised the government and the Governor’s Office for reacting quickly to expedite the arrival of the new helicopter, following the grounding of the existing aircraft, which was damaged after an aborted take-off caused by a technical fault last week.

The commissioner said that aircraft was still being reviewed and may need to be replaced.

He said the new helicopter gave police aerial capacity while the other was grounded, but in the long term is intended to supplement it.

“We don’t know what the state of that aircraft is going to be – we will be pushing to get that into service or replaced so we have two helicopters here at all times.”

He said the new helicopter was much more advanced – six models up from the existing aircraft – and was specifically equipped for search and rescue. It will return to the U.S. in December to be fitted with additional equipment, including a winch for performing rescues at sea.

Two Airbus pilots arrived on island with the helicopter and will operate it for the next week, including during the royal visit if necessary. After that, training pilots are coming in to train the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service’s two pilots on the aircraft. A third pilot will also be hired in the longer term to operate the aircraft.

Governor Martyn Roper, speaking as the helicopter touched down in Cayman on Thursday, said it was jointly funded by the U.K. and the Cayman Islands and would provide disaster support across the overseas territories within the region.

“This is a state-of-the-art piece of equipment for law enforcement, medevac, air and sea rescue, and for helping other territories that face natural disasters,” he said.

Roper said the arrival of the aircraft had been brought forward for national security reasons because the existing helicopter was out of action.

“Having it here when the royal couple visit will also be valuable to us,” he added.

Premier Alden McLaughlin hailed the partnership with the governor that had helped bring in the new aircraft.

“I am looking forward to Cayman’s increased ability to be an asset to the region. To have two helicopters will mean increased surveillance, increased ability to perform rescues at sea and elsewhere and generally make the region safer.”

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