2009 Incident #51 26.12.09 1719UTC #6072

The IRT was tasked to investigate a report from a member of public that a red distress flare had been seen in the night sky to the east of Charmouth.  Coastguard Rescue Helicopter 106 was tasked to search the immediate vicinity and further into the bay.  During the initial helicopter search pattern, the IRT saw a Chinese lantern set off from the beach.  A family was located on the beach launching Chinese lanterns albeit that their account did not explain the initial ‘flare’ sighting.  A more detailed search of the beach was then carried out.  The coast path and the nearby cliff top were searched for people letting off fireworks.  Nothing was found.  On returning to Lyme, several of these Chinese lanterns were seen drifting 100m up on the wind towards the southeast i.e. Charmouth.  After three hours of searching, the rescue services have assumed that the original ‘flare’ sighting was one of these Chinese lanterns.

The public are being urged to inform the Coastguard if using these lanterns near the coast.  Considered to be good luck in the Far East, the lanterns have only brought problems for the UK Coastguard. When lit they can soar to over a mile in the sky. Visible for up to 20 minutes on a clear night, the lanterns are increasingly mistaken for marine distress signals, as in this case.   The coastguard has to investigate a report of a red flare being deployed.  Rescue workers have to drop everything and incidents such as this are taking up valuable resources.  The biggest concern is that a genuine distress flare might get ignored, unreported and un investigated.

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