Practice rescue turns real as Culdrose fliers save kayaker
Royal Navy aviators today plucked a kayaker from the icy waters of the Channel off the Lizard Peninsula after his craft capsized.
Pilot Lieutenant Commander Olly Hill and his crew were about to begin a practice search-and-rescue drill when they picked up an SOS and their mission became a proper lifesaver.
The kayaker had capsized while paddling off the Lizard Peninsula and made an urgent mayday call on his radio.
His message was picked up by a Merlin Mk2 helicopter crew in Falmouth Bay, who happened to be practising search and rescue winching with trainee aircrew.
They immediately flew towards the search area, close to cliffs about one mile south of Coverack.
Falmouth Coastguard was already coordinating the rescue and the Lizard RNLI Lifeboat was also launched as the drama unfolded at around 12.45pm.
In charge of the navy helicopter, from 824 Naval Air Squadron at RNAS Culdrose at Helston, was pilot Lieutenant Commander Olly Hill.
He said: “We were literally just about to start the training when we picked up a garbled mayday message.
“We all paused and just listened, and we heard the message again. It was hard to understand but we heard the man say Coverack – we were only five minutes away.”
In the rear of the aircraft was trainee observer Lieutenant Robert Templeton, who was already kitted out to go down the winch line for his training exercise.
He was the first to spot the kayaker clinging to the side of his upturned craft as the helicopter circled the search area, close to the rocky shoreline. He was quickly lowered on a line by the instructor while the helicopter hovered above the exhausted kayaker.
“This was actually the first time I’ve ever done this,” said Lt Templeton. “We didn’t really adapt anything, and we carried on just as though it were a training exercise rather than real-life. It was a team effort and we all worked together to make sure it had a successful outcome.”
Lt Templeton was lowered into the water beside the man and the pair were soon winched safely back up to the helicopter. The kayaker was cold and shocked but otherwise appeared unhurt.
Matt Rogers, Team Leader at the Maritime and Rescue Coordination Centre at Falmouth, said: "The Royal Navy helicopter was training nearby in Falmouth Bay when they heard the distress call and made immediate contact to respond. Their quick actions meant they located the casualty within minutes of arriving on scene.
"The helicopter transported the casualty to RNAS Culdrose, where naval medics and Coastguard Rescue Teams attended to him.
"It is a great example of how we operate as one big team when it comes to search and rescue - the navy crew were happy to lend their services, and we were happy to receive them."
Although the military handed over civilian search and rescue duties to the coastguard in 2016, the Royal Navy continues to train its crews in these invaluable skills in case of emergencies at sea.