HMS Gannet SAR crew rescue forestry worker
The duty crew of a Sea King helicopter based at HMS Gannet, the UK’s busiest search and rescue unit, was scrambled at 11.15am 8 November to airlift an injured forestry worker to hospital from a remote woodland area on the Cowal Peninsula, north of the tiny village of Kilfinan.
Initial reports indicated that a tree had fallen on a man, but, arriving on scene some 15 minutes later, it became clear that the man had sustained an injury when part of a tree had swung forward under tension striking him on the leg. The remote nature of the accident – a full mile from the nearest track, which was as close as an ambulance could get – meant a helicopter was the only option for rapid response, treatment and recovery. Due to the terrain, however, it quickly became apparent that the manoeuvre was going to be trickier than first thought. With boggy, rutted ground, combined with acre after acre of protruding tree stumps, it was clear that the helicopter would be unable to land and that a winch operation was going to be the only way to get Gannet’s aircrewman to the scene.
“The site was very isolated and, in addition to the casualty, there was just one other person with him when we arrived,” explained Lieutenant Phil Gamble, the crew’s duty observer [navigator]. “But, between the boggy ground and all the tree debris and stumps, as well as the fact that the casualty was close to the tree line, we realised we were going to have to put our aircrewman down by winch. Although in pain, the man had managed to pull himself about 30ft out from where the accident happened to allow us to get easier access to him. In order to keep the helicopter clear of the trees, we made the winch from a hover of about 130 feet, which is quite high – about half the full length capability of the full wire. Sergeant Lee Haggerty, who is trained to ambulance technician level, was lowered into position and was then able to bring the casualty a little further out still from the tree cover and administer immediate medical assistance. It took a while for Lee to sort out the casualty for the retrieval winch, so we flew the helicopter away from the scene to the nearest landing spot, to reduce both the noise level and also the downwash, as well as to conserve fuel. In the meantime, Lee had splinted the man’s leg, administered pain relief and packaged him onto a stretcher – he radioed us to return to site and we then winched them the 130-feet back into the helicopter. Lee did a great job under significant pressure in a very difficult location – because of where the accident happened, Lee was the casualty’s only initial hope of medical attention, so it was quite a responsibility.”
Weather on the transit to Cowal and during the lift was relatively benign, but, as the team prepared to make the transfer to hospital in Glasgow after approximately an hour on scene, cloud began to close in. Nonetheless, the casualty, who was conscious throughout, was safely delivered to Glasgow Southern General Hospital for continued treatment just before 1pm.
The full crew was pilots Lieutenant Commander Lloyd Shanahan and Lieutenant Nick Walker, observer Lieutenant Phil Gamble and aircrewman/medic Sergeant Lee Haggerty Royal Marines.