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Culdrose Winchman Awarded George Cross

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7:01am 29th March 2013

A Culdrose winchman tells Pirate FM he thought his number was up as he rescued two yachtsmen off the Lizard.

Sergeant Tony Russell has been awarded the George Cross for his bravery in July 2011.

At one point he got caught underwater on the life raft he was trying to search.

But despite that he still saved both sailors: "I actually thought my time was up. But, I had a quick word with myself, cut myself free of the entanglement and swam back round to effect the rescue of the second survivor.

"You know it's a dangerous situation you are getting into. But at the end of the day that is what we get paid for, to save people whether it be search and rescue or when i'm out in Afghanistan to do the job out there. You just try and do the best that you can and be professional about it."

On 7 July 2011, in the dead of night, the yacht  'Andriette' was 110 miles offshore foundering in heavy seas with no steerage and an unserviceable engine. In extreme conditions of heavy rain squalls, high winds and mountainous seas the yacht was pitching and rolling in state seven seas.

The stricken yacht was 110 miles south east of Culdrose (approx 80nm south east of the Isles of Scilly). Stranded and foundering and beyond the reach of other rescue assets, a Royal Navy Sea King helicopter from 771 Squadron, Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose was scrambled to assist the yacht. Whilst the yacht was moving violently and unpredictably Sgt Russell volunteered to conduct a conventional rescue in full knowledge of the hazards he would face.

Winched down in complete darkness, immediately engulfed in waves and loosing communications, with gritty determination he hauled himself into the life raft and secured the first survivor with a strop. Dragged back under the water he was winched up to the relative safety of the helicopter.

The life raft now capsized due to the heavy swell and pitching seas, the remaining survivor was lost from sight. With little regard for his own safety he was courageously winched back down despite the buffering waves was able to swim to the inverted life raft, diving under it and surfacing in an air pocket.

At this point Tony was unsighted by the helicopter crew and was without communications with them, at this point, the crew decided to attempt to winch him using the winch wire, causing the life raft to flip over, fortuitously with the survivor inside. At this point he was entangled in ropes which he managed to cut free, swim back to the survivor and place him in a strop and complete the rescue.

When recounting his daredevil rescue, Tony said: "It was an extremely difficult and tense rescue, the whole crew onboard the helicopter worked well as a team in what was technically an extremely difficult rescue", he went on to add, " at this point my training and professionalism just kicked in, I was their last chance, their last hope".

Sgt Anthony Russell, who is originally from Bath, is now based at Commando Helicopter Force, Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton.

You can hear his full story here:


7:01am 29th March 2013

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