FRESH calls have been made to save the Portland coastguard helicopter after it was 'instrumental' in the rescue of a workman who plunged in to the sea on a digger.

The helicopter was scrambled to Crown Wharf, Castletown, Portland on Saturday (MAR 1) afternoon after the digger toppled over a 20ft wall and in to the water, landing on top of its driver.

The injured man was winched to safety by the helicopter and airlifted to Southampton General Hospital, suffering from serious but not life-threatening injuries.

It is believed the man, who has not been named, suffered a broken collarbone and broken leg in the incident.

But witnesses have said they 'dread to think' what could have happened had the Portland chopper not been on hand.

Paul Dawson of Castletown Stores, near to where the incident happened, said: “All I saw was this rush of emergency vehicles outside the store.

“We are dealing with a rising tide here and the man was incredibly lucky the coastguard helicopter got to the area as quickly as it did.

“I believe it was instrumental in his rescue.”

As reported in the Echo, the Portland coastguard helicopter base is due to close in 2017.

A petition of more than 100,000 signatures was handed to parliament last month demanding that the Government reverse its decision.

If the Portland base is axed, emergencies in Dorset will be attended by helicopters from Lee-on-Solent, Hampshire or Culdrose, Cornwall.

The Department for Transport has said modern helicopters operating from fewer bases will provide a better service.

But this has been rubbished by campaigners who call the closure of the Portland base 'nothing more than a money saving exercise.'

Borough councillor for the area Sandy West said the incident on Saturday 'highlights why we must keep fighting to save the Portland helicopter.'

She added: “I am so thankful the helicopter was there, it doesn't bear thinking about what could have happened.

“It would have taken the Lee-on-Solent helicopter up to about 40 minutes to get to the incident- and that's if it had even been available.

“You can't imagine what could have happened.

“It's not only the injured man who has been rescued but the people who would have probably tried to dive in and help him if they knew the helicopter had been so far away.

“It's at least one life saved.

“And it's not just the effect on the injured man- it's the effect on his family and the community had the situation been worse.

“We have got to do everything we can to keep the helicopter on Portland.

“The closure is nothing more than a money saving exercise, and at what price?”

Firefighters, paramedics and police officers rushed to the incident, which happened at around 3.30pm.

A Dorset Fire and Rescue spokesman said: “Portland, Weymouth and a technical rescue team from Poole went to Crown Wharf where a digger had fallen off a 20 ft wall onto a casualty.

“The crews carried out casualty care and assisted the paramedics and the ambulance.

“The casualty was put on a stretcher and winched to safety by the coastguard helicopter. He was then transported to hospital.”

Pro-Dem, the firm involved, said it was assessing the situation and did not wish to comment.

A spokesman for the coastguard said: “The helicopter was tasked as it was so close to the scene and we have got paramedics onboard.

“We were able to very quickly pick the casualty up and airlift him straight off to the hospital.

“It was a swift rescue for us because we were so close to the scene.”

The injured man's work colleagues told the Echo that he was 'very lucky' not to have been more seriously injured.