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Daily roar will be lost from town

By The Cornishman  |  Posted: October 04, 2012

  • An idyllic view of the island of Tresco as seen from the helicopter.

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ONE of the peculiarities of living in Penzance is the daily hum and roar of helicopter blades as BIH's aircraft travel between the mainland and the Isles of Scilly.

Whether you are driving on the A30 or walking on the prom, it is not unusual to catch a glimpse of the blue, white and red livery as the machines head out to sea to Tresco or St Mary's.

Until last Thursday, this had been my only experience of BIH's Sikorsky S-61s.

This assignment for The Cornishman meant I was lucky enough to make the trip before the service is grounded at the end of the month.

The Penzance to St Mary's route has been operated by BIH since 1964, making it the world's longest-running scheduled helicopter service, while the Tresco service opened in 1983.

Between them, the routes have carried hundreds of thousands of passengers over the years.

Last Thursday morning after days of rain, I presented myself at the Eastern Green heliport not quite knowing what to expect but knowing the trip I was about to take had become as normal as boarding a bus for many of the islands' residents.

Along with my fellow passengers – the adventurous day trippers, the residents and the workers – I watched the famous safety briefing before being allowed to board the helicopter.

It is now and during take-off that I realise the allure of the helicopters – they are thrilling and unusual – what better way to start a holiday?

And then the sun came out, bathing St Michael's Mount in early morning light – what a sight.

During the flight you never forget where you are because of the constant chug of the rotor blades and I have to shout to make myself heard to fellow flyer Louise Gough.

Ms Gough is a Penzance chiropractor who has been flying the route for 23 years and was on board for her last trip on the helicopter.

She used to travel to Scilly once a week but now visits her patients once a month.

She is planning to continue this using Skybus but has concerns that the winter service may be less reliable than the helicopter.

"I have been going for half my life," she said. "If I can't get back to my patients in Penzance on a Friday then I am going to have to consider whether travelling to St Mary's is realistic." Ms Gough talks about her sadness over the loss of this important service and her sympathy for the islanders and the people who will lose their jobs.

She said: "There are lots of times when the helicopter is the only transport to the island in the winter. We need both services."

So, we touch down at the St Mary's helipad, just 20 minutes after leaving Penzance, and I have begun to realise just how important the helicopter has been to the people of west Cornwall and Scilly over the years.

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  • Marklondon  |  October 05 2012, 10:38AM

    My grandmother was driving along the road past the heliport one day in the 1960s, in a line of traffic. As a helicopter took off, suddenly BANG! The man behind had turned his head to look at it and hit granny from behind, writing off her brand new Austin 1100. He paid for her new car very quickly and in cash rather than going through his insurance, thanking granny for being "so discreet". When she asked what he meant, it turned out he shouldn't have been in Penzance at all - he was a businessman on a dirty weekend with his secretary! But sorry to see the service go.

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