Navy fliers rescue French sailor as trimaran capsizes off tip of Cornwall
The crew from 814 Naval Air Squadron – The Flying Tigers – were on a training exercise in Mount’s Bay yesterday, Thursday July 14, when they picked up the signal from an emergency distress beacon at 5.01pm.
They then heard a ‘mayday’ radio call on the maritime distress frequency and, in contact with coastguards at Falmouth, circled the scene and discovered a yachtsman on the upturned hull of a boat about four miles off Porthcurno.
Lowering their aircrewman on a winch line, the crew from Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose picked up the shocked survivor and lifted him into their Merlin Mk2 helicopter at 5.15pm.
By coincidence the helicopter crew were all extremely experienced, featuring the squadron’s senior pilot, senior observer and a former search and rescue pilot who had served with 771 Naval Air Squadron.
For Lieutenant Commander Mark ‘Vasco’ Barber this was his 123rd rescue – his first in a Merlin, with all the others in the old red and grey search and rescue Sea King helicopters.
He said: “We do tactical antisubmarine warfare training at Culdrose but I’ve probably got more experience of search and rescue. I’ve dealt with rescues just like this one and it was all very comfortable for me.”
Lieutenant Commander Chris ‘Fordy’ Ford was operating the winch and directed the pilots from the open side door of the Merlin.
On the end of the wire, Chief Petty Officer Aircrewman Si ‘Mitch’ Mitchell landed on the upturned boat and soon both he and the yachtsman were winched back up to the aircraft.
Lieutenant Commander Ford said: “Once we’d prepared and done all the checks, it all went extremely smoothly. The man appeared unharmed and was only wet up to his knees.
“He was shocked though and the aircrewman sat with him to reassure him. My key concern was if there was anyone else in the boat. He didn’t speak English, only French, and I asked him: ‘One person? One person?’, until I was satisfied there was no one else missing.”
By this time, the crew could also see a fishing boat had arrived at the scene and a tanker was also heading in their direction. Sennen Lifeboat was also enroute.
As a precaution the helicopter crew flew the man to Royal Cornwall Hospital at Truro, where staff had already been alerted of their arrival by the coastguard.
The aircraft commander and squadron senior pilot Lieutenant Commander George Ridley said: “Whenever possible, we will offer assistance to such incidents. This is of particular relevance during the summer months when more people take advantage of the beautiful Cornish coastline.
“I’m really pleased that 814 Squadron was able to assist this individual so quickly and I wish him a speedy recovery. This was an excellent example of a whole-squadron effort from 814, with our engineers working tirelessly to provide serviceable aircraft and our survival equipment specialists ensuring that our search and rescue kit is maintained and ready to go at all times.”
Following the rescue, the crew returned to Mount’s Bay and completed their training exercise.
The Royal Navy handed routine civilian search and rescue duties to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in 2016 but continues to train its crews in such skills in case of emergencies or military incidents.