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Culdrose Merlin helicopter in Caribbean medical emergency airlift

Published: 06 Oct 2017

The RNAS Culdrose team on board HMS Ocean were scrambled to airlift a frail pensioner to safety when medics on Dominica were unable to treat him due to storm damage.

A Merlin helicopter was launched from Britain’s flagship when she picked up a plea for help from the hospital in Roseau, the island’s capital, where an 80-year-old man was brought in suffering from pneumonia.

With no electrical power, medication or even fresh running water in the infirmary, the elderly man was not expected to survive the night.

As a British citizen he was entitled to evacuation – helicopters lifted 39 vulnerable Britons to safety from the small island as one of the first tasks when Ocean arrived off Dominica. That was a relatively straight-forward operation, but airlifting the pneumonia patient and his wife proved rather more complex for the crew of the helicopter from 820 Naval Air Squadron from Cornwall. They are normally used to hunting submarines and providing protection for the nation’s new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The rear of the helicopter – usually crammed with seats and submarine-hunting equipment – was turned into “a mobile intensive care unit”, complete with a Royal Navy emergency doctor and nurse, said Observer (navigator/weapons and sensors specialist) Lieutenant Commander ‘Bernie’ Winterton.

The town was in complete darkness as there was no electricity and residents had lit small fires in amongst the remains of their properties, creating a surreal atmosphere,” he continued.

The helicopter landed close to the hospital, the medics stabilised the patient and the Merlin made the short return flight to HMS Ocean, which had been dispatched to the Caribbean as part of the UK’s military response to Hurricanes Irma, Jose and Maria.

The patient and his wife spent the night aboard the Plymouth-based warship before being flown by the Merlin crew once more, this time to Barbados – hub of the hurricane relief effort – for onward transport to the UK.

Lt Cdr Winterton’s helicopter is one of nine aircraft on Ocean – two RAF Chinooks, the remainder Royal Navy Merlins and Wildcats – which have been heavily in demand during the 12 days the carrier has been in the Caribbean.

Collectively, the aircraft have flown 340 hours of missions, delivering 170 tonnes of aid and supplies and moving 650 passengers around the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Dominica and the Turks and Caicos.


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