WHILE most people prepare to toast the new year with a glass of bubbly, Lieutenant Al Hinchliffe will be steering well clear of the fizz.

The former Heckmondwike Grammar School pupil needs to be fully alert in case his life-saving skills are called on.

Al, 41, is a pilot at the UK’s busiest helicopter search and rescue unit in Scotland.

He is part of a four-man team on the Royal Navy’s HMS Gannet that will be on duty as the world welcomes in 2011.

“Obviously what we ultimately hope for is that there will be no call-outs,” he said.

“Not because we’re not ready or we don’t want to do our job, but because, no matter how you look at it, a call-out for us equals bad news for someone else.

“But we’re here and ready to help should the worst happen and, as always, we’ll do everything we can to make sure that we get the best outcome – whether that be rescuing someone from a mountain or transferring a seriously ill person to hospital.”

Awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Bravery in the Air for his part in the rescue of passengers from stricken Greek ferry the Express Samina in September 2000, Al joined HMS Gannet at Prestwick in Ayrshire earlier this year.

He now lives close to the unit with his wife, Alex, and children, Fiona and Phillip.

His team covers an area of 98,000 square miles, stretching from the Lake District in the south to Ben Nevis in the north, Edinburgh and Dundee in the east to Scotland’s west coast highlands and islands, Northern Ireland and 200 miles out into the Atlantic.

The Gannet crew includes fellow pilot Lieutenant Mike Paulet, observer Lieutenant Commander Rob Suckling and air crewman paramedic Petty Officer Taff Ashman.

They have more than 10,000 hours of flying experience between them.

Last new year they responded to seven call-outs – two on New Year’s Eve, two on New Year’s Day and a further three on January 2.

Al added: “And, if we’re not busy in the air at the bells, I’m sure I’ll manage to give my wife Alex and a quick call to wish her and my kids a Happy New Year.”