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Gannet's SAR Sea King lifts injured lifeboatman

Published: 04 Dec 2013

A Royal Navy helicopter has winched an injured lifeboat crew member to hospital in strong winds and heavy seas around five miles west of the Mull of Kintyre.

The crew of Campbeltown Lifeboat, a Severn-Class vessel, was called to the aid of a 60 metre, 2000 tonnes fish farm boat which had lost rudder steerage late on Thursday night (November 28).

The vessel was adrift in difficult conditions west of Kintyre.

With the ship under tow, the lifeboat was making steady progress towards Campbeltown Habour when one of the crew suffered an injury to his leg and they called for assistance.

At 1.05am, the duty crew of HMS Gannet’s search and rescue Sea King from Prestwick in Ayrshire was airborne. Flying into a strong westerly headwind – gusting up to 45 knots – the crew arrived on scene 35 minutes later at 1.40am.

Making a radar approach due to a lack of visual references and working on night vision goggles, they found the lifeboat towing the larger vessel.

The injured casualty was inside of the lifeboat, which, due to the rough sea state, was pitching violently in the waves.

With the larger vessel under tow, the lifeboat’s manoeuvrability was severely impaired and it became clear it was going to be a very difficult job.

It took several approach attempts to find a safe position for the helicopter to go into a hover above the lifeboat in order to deliver the winchman Petty Officer Shaun Knights, who is also an ambulance technician, to the deck.

“Because of the sea state and tow line, the lifeboat was rolling heavily and unpredictably in the waves – it was unable to easily alter course to make its passage more suitable for winching operations,”

explained Lieutenant Angela Lewis, HMS Gannet’s observer [navigator] and winch operator.

“We had to avoid the larger vessel behind it, as well as making sure that our winch wire would be as clear as possible of the elevated technical equipment on the lifeboat.

“And we had to be mindful of the dangerous strain on the tow rope – had it snapped, it could have damaged the aircraft.

“The way that the towline was secured also halved the potential deck area available to us for the winch procedure.

“We managed after several attempts to get what we call a hi-line onto the deck – this is effectively a piece of rope which can be used to steady the winch wire – it is anchored at one end by a person on the ground, or deck in this case, and can stop the winch from spinning in high winds or turbulence, which we had both of in abundance.

“In this case the hi-line was used not only as a steadying line, but mainly so that the winch wire could be pulled across the deck allowing the aircraft to stand off a difficult moving position.

“We then managed to get Petty Officer Shaun Knights onto the lifeboat – despite being slammed against the lifeboat’s rails and deck several times, he was able to detach from the winch and allow us to put the stretcher down.

“Shaun began to work on making sure the casualty was comfortable and packaged on the stretcher and we moved the helicopter clear of the lifeboat to give less downwash from the rotors.

“At this point, the towrope to the larger ship snapped. Larne Lifeboat was then put on standby, but, in the meantime, this had released the Campbeltown Lifeboat to be able to get a better position, which was actually of benefit to us.

“Our pilots – Lieutenant Jon Lynas and Lieutenant Commander Lloyd Shanahan – had been working tirelessly to keep the aircraft as steady as possible, which was extremely hard going.

“Jon was at the controls and was having to pull high power to remain at the correct height and steady in the difficult gusts.

“With the Campbeltown Lifeboat in a better position and the casualty packaged on the stretcher we were able to make the final recovery into the helicopter before heading for Crosshouse Hospital in Kilmarnock.”

By now the helicopter was fuel critical and had to shut down at the hospital while the casualty was taken to a waiting ambulance and safely delivered to the care of medical staff.

The injured crewman has since been discharged from hospital and is making a good recovery.

Campbeltown Lifeboat continued to assist the stricken ship, which was delivered to Campbeltown Harbour at 12 noon today (Friday November 29).

The helicopter returned to HMS Gannet at 4.30am after almost three and a half hours.

The full HMS Gannet crew was pilots Lieutenant Commander Lloyd Shanahan and Lieutenant Jon Lynas, observer [navigator] Lieutenant Angela Lewis and Petty Officer Shaun ‘Boogie’ Knights, winchman and ambulance technician.


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