The UK Coastguard has released details about a ‘life or death’ helicopter mission to rescue an unwell crewman from a vessel 180 miles offshore.
The long range mission involved a search and rescue helicopter based at Stornoway, plus the extra communications and safety support of a Hercules C-130 aircraft from RAF Brize Norton.
This followed a request for help from the Spanish Coast Guard working to bring the crewman to shore.
Just after 8.30pm on Saturday 8 October, UK Coastguard were notified that the vessel was about 230 miles North West of the Isle of Lewis and was beyond the range that the helicopter could reach safely. The weather conditions were also not ideal for winching.
UK Coastguard said the vessel needed to make its way closer to Isle of Lewis and also asked for the extra support from the RAF.
Once the ship was within a safe range, the UK Coastguard helicopter was sent to scene by the UK Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre (ARCC), under the watchful wing of the RAF’s Hercules.
Due to the long distance, the Hercules provided vital communication support and safety cover, acting as a go-between to prepare the vessel for the winching operation, which saved vital time during the mission.
The injured man was winched on to the helicopter and was taken to Inverness Airport where he was transferred to Raigmore hospital by the Scottish Ambulance Service.
The crew did not speak English, so a translator helped relay instructions to the fishing vessel for the operation.
The UK Coastguard search and rescue helicopter based at Inverness provided back up cover for the Stornoway aircraft while the work went on.
UK Coastguard Commander Mark Rodaway said: ‘In this weather and at this range, it was vital that the helicopter was able to rendezvous with the vessel and evacuate the injured crewman with as little delay as possible.
‘This is a superb example of international co-operation and we would like to thank all those who have played their part in bringing this rescue to a textbook conclusion.’
Peter Wood, winchman paramedic for the UK Coastguard helicopter based at Stornoway said: ‘In ideal conditions we can reach 250 nautical miles, but the conditions on the day reduced that to 230 nautical miles. Due to the long range distance and the bad weather, we were supported by an RAF Hercules to help us complete our mission.
‘They provided vital communications assistance between the vessel and a watchful eye over our helicopter at that great distance. Just as importantly they made sure the vessel had adjusted its course to prepare for the winching which saved us valuable time. With their support our hover time was dramatically reduced which meant we were able to winch the crewman on-board in a matter of minutes.
When you’re at this range in a life and death situation such as this one, every minute counts, so to know that the military had our backs if we got into trouble was a huge relief. We wish the crewman a speedy recovery.’
The C-130 Captain said: ‘This was a highly satisfying callout where all the agencies involved worked together for a successful outcome. It was a life or death situation and everyone involved worked as quickly as possible to preserve life.’
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