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VIDEO: Bravery Award After Fishermen Rescue

Le sillon wreck
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7:29am 23rd October 2014
(Updated 7:29am 23rd October 2014)

Bravery awards for the Cornish aircrew who saved five fishermen from drowning near Padstow.

It happened amid thirty foot seas at the height of last winter's storms, when their fishing boat was wrecked at Trevose Head.

On Thursday, four of the helicopter crew from Culdrose will be given one of the world's top aviation accolades after winching them to safety.

The four aircrew from 771 Naval Air Squadron, will be presented with the 'The Prince Philip Helicopter Rescue Award' for the 'Le Sillon' rescue, the second time in three years that the Search and Rescue Squadron has received it. 

Kapitänleutnant Steffen Volkwein (Pilot and Aircraft Commander), Lieutenant Commander Dickie Calhaem (Co-pilot), Lieutenant Commander Paul Robertson (Observer and Winch Operator) and Petty Officer Aircrewman Russ 'Patch' Adams (Aircrewman and Winchman) will receive the award for 'courage, achievement and highest standards of airmanship' at London's medieval Guildhall.  

During the storms that hit the Cornish coast in February 2014, the Culdrose aviators launched a heroic night-time rescue operation to airlift five French fishermen from almost certain death as their vessel, 'Le Sillon', was wrecked off Trevose Head near Padstow.  

The Royal Navy Sea King helicopter was launched from Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose to assist. Visibility was less than 4000 metres, with 30ft waves and 45 Kts of wind.Le Sillon Rescue

Hovering at 60 feet, the swell was so severe that the relative height of 'Le Sillon' was fluctuating between 20-100 feet relative to 'Rescue 193.'

With a normal winch recovery impossible, direction was passed to the fishermen to jump into the sea, one at a time and swim clear of the vessel. Wearing their survival equipment, the first fisherman jumped into the water. Pre-positioned ready for an immediate rescue of the survivor, Adams made his first recovery, fighting through significant swell and spray to quickly make contact with the man in the water. 

With the first survivor onboard the helicopter, Adams quickly rescued the second fisherman who was now in the water. While returning to rescue the third fisherman, Adams was this time fully submerged beneath a large wave. Close to exhaustion and having ingested sea water, Adams elected to inflate his emergency life jacket to assist his own efforts to remain buoyant.  Once on the surface again, he made another successful recovery to the aircraft.

Once onboard, the Observer noted that despite being exhausted and seen to be vomiting from the effects of ingesting sea water, Adams was quickly preparing himself to be lowered down to the sea again, after donning a second lifejacket.  Once changed and without any hesitation, Adams safely recovered the remaining two fishermen consecutively from the sea.  A sixth fisherman was recovered by the Padstow RNLI lifeboat, ensuring no lives were lost.

In addition to Petty Officer Adams' efforts the crew of "Rescue 193" worked as a team throughout this testing rescue.  This heroism has led, for the second time in three years to 'Rescue 193', of 771 Naval Air Squadron at RNAS Culdrose being named for The Prince Philip Helicopter Rescue Award.

In particular, winchman Petty Officer (Aircrewman) Russell Adams, risked his life repeatedly to save the fishermen. He battled significant spray, thirty foot seas and at one stage was fully submerged. 

Following the rescue, Petty Officer Adams said: "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."

Lt Cdr Scott Armstrong, Commanding Officer of 771 Naval Air Squadron said: "I am hugely proud of the crew of 'Rescue 193' that conducted the rescue of five crewmembers from Le Sillon. The weather conditions were some of the most testing that 771 has seen in quite some time and it is testament to the skill and ability of the crew that they were able to effect a successful rescue. 

"We pride ourselves on a long history of successful Search And Rescue in the South West of England and this award helps to reaffirm to the men and women of 771 Naval Air Squadron that what we do is both vital and appreciated."

Cdr Victoria Dale-Smith, Commander of the Sea King Force said: "The 771NAS and Gannet SAR Flight have received this award four times in 10 years, this is down to the professionalism of the crews and individuals who demonstrate bravery beyond their call of duty. 

"The Rescue 193 crew are hugely deserving of this accolade given the atrocious conditions and I am extremely proud of all of 771 NAS personnel for providing such a sterling 247 service."


7:29am 23rd October 2014

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