Culdrose Winchman Who Saved Five Lives at Sea Is Awarded QGM
A winchman based at RNAS Culdrose who risked his life repeatedly to save five French fisherman from almost certain death, has been awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal.
In desperate conditions and with all other options exhausted, Petty Officer Russ Adams rescued five men trapped on a badly damaged French fishing vessel in the middle of a raging storm off the coast ofCornwall last February.
The duty helicopter from 771 Naval Air Squadron, the Culdrose based ‘Search and Rescue’ unit, was scrambled to aid those onboard the stricken boat. Battling mountainous 30ft waves in the pitch black, the pilot of the Royal Navy Sea King helicopter also had to fight against 60mph gusts.
“It was a difficult rescue and being at night it was much more challenging,” said PO Adams. “I was swinging around on the line like a pendulum which is quite eerie as one minute there is nothing below you and the next you are in the water.”
The crew of the vessel – Le Sillon – were ordered to jump into the water one by one so that PO Adams could swim to them and then winch them back up to safety. “It was really difficult to swim in those conditions,” he said. “The fishermen just had to trust us when we told them to jump into the water – that must have been horrendous for them to look into that sea and just let go. One of them had been injured by flying glass so it was a struggle for him as well.”
PO Adams managed to swing down underneath the Royal Navy Sea King helicopter to save the first two fisherman, but as he returned for a third, a huge wave crashed over him, fully submerging him for a few seconds.
Close to exhaustion and retching due to ingesting copious amounts of sea water, he then inflated his life jacket to remain buoyant and winched the terrified man back to the waiting helicopter.
After changing into a fresh life jacket, PO Adams then went down twice more to get the remaining crew members. A sixth was picked up by the RNLI who was waiting close by but was unable to get closer due to the unpredictable waves.
As the onboard medic, PO Adams then tended to his patients as the Sea King helicopter flew them back. He said: “I think it is very humbling that I have been recognised in this way. I feel as though I was the one on shift that night and that any one of my colleagues could do the same thing.
“I am proud of all of our efforts that night to save those fisherman – the pilot and observer were under a lot of pressure to keep the aircraft steady and my life safe. It was a very challenging rescue and being at night it made it even more so. I think we were really working at the limits.”
PO Adams was one of 26 Royal Navy and Royal Marine personnel recognised at the Tri-Service Operational Honours & Awards event held at Lancaster House inLondon. The latest operational honours list is for actions roughly between October 2013 to 30 June 2014.
The QGM is a rare decoration and is awarded for exemplary acts of bravery. Silver and circular, the obverse shows the crowned effigy of the monarch and the reverse bears the image of St Edward’s Crown. The ribbon is of three equal stripes of dark blue, pearl grey and dark blue with a narrow rose pink stripe in the centre.
PO Adams, who is married with two children and lives inCornwall, is originally fromToronto inCanada. He joined the Royal Navy ten years ago.