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The Crew of the French fishing boat Le Sillon
Le Sillon crashed on the Rocks at Porthcothan
Le Sillon crashed on the Rocks at Porthcothan
771 NAS Sea King working with the RNLI lifeboat from Falmouth on an earlier training exercise

RN Sea King rescue in treacherous conditions

Published: 10 Feb 2014

A Royal Navy Helicopter from 771 Search and Rescue Naval Air Squadron has carried out a daring mission that saved the lives of six fishermen. 

The fisherman from the French fishing boat ‘Le Sillon’ run into difficulties off theNorth Cornwallcoast and reported to Coastguard that their boat had been hit by a number of large waves, smashing the windows of its bridge and injuring the skipper. Losing all its power and steering they were adrift about five miles off Trevose Head near Padstow, before the RNLI all-weather lifeboat from Padstow took them under Tow. The wind at the time was gusting up to 60 mph. 

“All along the North Cornwall coast conditions were treacherous with gale force winds, high tides and heavy rain,” said Martin Bidmead, watch manger at Falmouth Coastguard. “The Padstow lifeboat, along with the SAR helicopter from Culdrose was sent to the scene. Attempts have been made to bring Le Sillon under tow, but conditions proved too difficult.” 

Arriving on-scene to assist, ‘Rescue 193’ from Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose, saw the Tow line part. Le Sillon was once again adrift and unable to turn into wind. Assessing the only clear winching area would be the forecastle, resulting in the pilots losing all visual references over the pitching and violently rolling deck, they elected to winch the fishermen from the water. 

The Padstow RNLI Lifeboat took up station close by to pick up any crew members the aircraft was unable to reach. 

Petty Officer Aircrewman Russ ‘Patch’ Adamstakes up the story; “The plan was for me to go down on the winch and get the rescue strop around the crew one by one, bringing them up safely to the Sea King. The Sea state was pretty rough and I reckon there was an eight metre swell. I was swinging around a lot and on some of the lifts I was dragged along the wave tops and underwater. It did seem we were working at the limits.” 

‘Patch’ went down six times into the sea, rescuing five of the six fishermen; the sixth jumped in to the water and was eventually picked up by the Lifeboat. 

“The final person, the master of the ship jumped but swam around the front of the boat and was caught by the swell,” said Lieutenant Commander Dickie Calhaem one of two pilots in Rescue 193. “He disappeared off into the blackness. ‘ Patch’ was in the water and unsure exactly where this man had gone. I called the lifeboat and they scooted round and picked him up.” 

The crew of four French and two Portuguese nationals were cold, shaken but mostly unharmed. The skipper was taken to hospital to have glass removed from his feet and his crew were flown to RNAS Culdrose. The wreckage from Le Sillon was washed up at Park Head, near Porthcothan the following morning. 

771 Naval Air Squadron - Rescue 193 crew:
Lieutenant Commander Dickie Calhaem
Kapitänleutnant Steffan Volkwein (German Navy Exchange)
Lieutenant Commander Paul Robertson (Observer)
Petty Officer Aircrewman Russ ‘Patch’ Adams

YouTube video of part of rescue viewed from Padstow lifeboat.


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