PITREAVIE Castle near Dunfermline is to become the sole UK

headquarters for search and rescue operations, it was announced


It will be operational by the end of the year, and will replace

Britain's other rescue facility at Mount Wise, Plymouth, as The Herald

reported last week.

The announcement was made by Defence Secretary Malcolm Rifkind in

reply to a parliamentary question.

It follows a review of arrangements for the co-ordination of military

response to search and rescue facilities, which concluded that a single

centre, equipped with the most modern communications and computer

facilities, could best tackle the job.

Senior RAF personnel at Pitreavie, who have handled more incidents

this year than their Plymouth colleagues, welcomed the decision.

The Scottish rescue co-ordination centre has dealt with 626 incidents,

assisting 607 people, while Plymouth handled 424, involving 248 people.

A senior RAF source envisaged no problems in dealing with rescue

operations nationwide, because it is already responsible for an area of

three million square miles, from north of Shetland to England and north


Advanced communication systems will be installed at Pitreavie in a

surface building, instead of its present underground centre known as

''the pit''.

The logic is that with the withdrawal of any Soviet threat, it is no

longer necessary to work underground, where space has become limited.

Some 25 RAF officers and men work round the clock at Pitreavie

co-ordinating rescues, while Plymouth has 26. In all, 36 Servicemen will

operate the new facility with six civilians already based at Pitreavie.

Its area will extend from Shetland to an area roughly 900 miles

south-west of Plymouth, with responsibilities for the North Sea and


With national links already established with agencies such as the

Scottish Air Ambulance Service, it was emphasised that a mutual respect

in search and rescue already existed, but this would be updated on a

regular basis.

An advantage of the new technology, known as Mission Support System

will, it is said, relieve search and rescue controllers of numerous

routine activities, enabling Pitreavie to operate even more effectively.

The decision was also welcomed by Mr Hamish MacInnes, a founder member

of the Glencoe mountain rescue centre. He said: ''I think it is a good

thing that it is being retained because the people at Pitreavie have

good search and rescue knowledge.

''Our incidents, particularly in winter and in the mountains, tend to

be more hazardous, and I am pleased by the decision.''

North-east Fife Liberal Democrat MP Mr Menzies Campbell, who recently

campaigned for the retention of the RAF air base at Leuchars for search

and rescue operations -- now undertaken from Boulmer and Lossiemouth --

said the decision was welcome because it recognised the high degree of

competence and expertise at Pitreavie.

It did not, however, compensate for the recent decision not to place

nuclear submarine refitting at Rosyth, or the withdrawal of search and

rescue operations at Leuchars. ''I am certain that political

considerations played their part,'' he added.

Scottish Secretary Ian Lang said the news ''would be welcomed by the

dedicated and highly efficient personnel of the rescue services in

Scotland and throughout the UK, and by those members of the public who

may have need of their assistance''.