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Gannet SAR helicopter locates the RIB
The RIB's remote location
Emotional reunion at Port Ellen

HMS Gannet SAR aids man and two children adrift in a RIB on the Atlantic

Published: 03 Jun 2014

A Royal Navy helicopter went to the aid of three people – a father and his two children – stranded on a rigid inflatable boat (RIB) after the craft’s engine failed.

The RIB had been sailing from Northern Ireland’s Rathlin Island to Port Ellen on the Isle of Islay, approximately 20 nautical miles (nm), when the power failed and the boat began to drift off course.

An RNLI lifeboat from Port Ellen and the duty Sea King from HMS Gannet in Prestwick were scrambled at approximately 7.25pm yesterday (Sunday June 1) and en-route to conduct a search. A merchant vessel in the area was also alerted.

The duty aircraft was on scene searching within 25 minutes of take off from Ayrshire. In discussion with Belfast Coastguard, the helicopter was able to establish VHF communication with the stricken vessel.

This airwave contact allowed the helicopter to refine the search still further and the boat and its three occupants were finally located using thermal imaging cameras.

Conditions on scene were difficult with patchy fog impairing visibility during the search, but the helicopter was able to find the boat in just over half an hour at 8.25pm.

“They had drifted considerably off course – they were about 15nm north west of Rathlin, when they should have been northerly,” explained HMS Gannet’s duty observer [navigator] Lieutenant Angela Lewis.

“Effectively they were heading further and further out into the ocean with every passing minute.

“As you can imagine, searching for quite a small vessel in the vastness of the sea like that is pretty challenging, but the VHF radio signature was readable on our instruments and it allowed us to close the net more accurately.

“Once we were much closer to their location we were able to use thermal imaging to pinpoint them.

“Our aircrewman Petty Officer Alan Speed was winched down to the boat and, within 15 minutes, with the agreement of the father, had winched the two children up to the helicopter.

“The Port Ellen lifeboat was still 40 minutes away and dad stayed with the RIB so that it could be towed back to harbour, while we delivered the children back to their mum at Port Ellen at 9pm, which really was quite an emotional reunion.

“No one was hurt, though everyone had got quite cold and obviously the children were a bit scared and tired.

“We respond to a lot of very difficult and unpleasant call outs, so it was genuinely a pleasure to know that the outcome of this rescue was all good news.”

The Port Ellen lifeboat rendezvoused successfully with the RIB and towed it back to harbour.

HMS Gannet’s crew was pilots Lieutenants Jamie Murray and Jamie Ross, observer and aircraft commander Lieutenant Angela Lewis and winchman/Aircrewman Petty Officer


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