News story

Busiest 24 hours for HMS Gannet's search and rescue team

Going on call at 0900hrs on the morning of Wednesday 19 May, the crew of Lieutenant George ‘Logie’ Baird (aircraft captain and pilot), Lieutenant…

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Going on call at 0900hrs on the morning of Wednesday 19 May, the crew of Lieutenant George ‘Logie’ Baird (aircraft captain and pilot), Lieutenant Jonathan Laidlaw (pilot), Lieutenant Phil Gamble (observer) and Petty Officer Marcus ‘Wiggy’ Wigfull (aircrewman) had no idea that their 24-hour stint in the hot seat would be the unit’s busiest so far of 2010.

After a quiet start, the Prestwick-based team’s first call came in at 1240hrs to transfer a casualty from Maybole to Ayr Hospital. They then remained airborne to carry out some local area training.

What was then to become a very busy evening kicked off in earnest at 1600hrs with a call to effect a medical evacuation from Rathlin Island off the coast of Northern Ireland. Having embarked on the sortie, the crew was then recalled when the casualty was transferred by other means.

But at 1715hrs another call came in - this time to a fallen climber on Buachaille Etive Mor in Glencoe.

Although there was little wind to speak of, the rescue was made more difficult by low cloud cover.

The climber had fallen some 50ft (15m) into a gully around 2,500ft (760m) up the mountain and the duty crew first lifted members of the Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team (MRT) closer to the scene, before standing by while they made their way to the casualty:

Once the MRT guys had got in and stabilised the casualty, we made a stretcher lift,” said observer Lt Phil Gamble.

I was winched down 100ft [30m] on the wire into the gully to recover the casualty on the stretcher into the aircraft.

Although wind conditions were quite quiet, there was a lot of low cloud around. At one point there was just sheer rock face surrounding us and the pilots had to wedge the aircraft into quite a small space. It was pretty good flying.

The helicopter then flew the casualty to Glasgow’s Southern General Hospital before landing back at base at 2035hrs.

Barely an hour later though the alarm sounded once more and the helicopter was airborne at 2205hrs bound for Rathlin Island again, once more for a medical transfer to Coleraine Hospital on the mainland. The crew touched back down at Prestwick at 0030hrs the following morning.

After managing to catch some sleep, with just quarter-of-an-hour of their 24-hour duty remaining, an emergency call came in at 0845hrs and the Sea King was airborne at 0850hrs and heading for Campbeltown to transfer a casualty to Glasgow.

The tired team returned to base at 1045hrs, glad to hand over to the incoming duty crew:

To be honest, apart from the mountain rescue, it was all reasonably straightforward stuff,” said Lt Gamble.

“There was quite a lot of low cloud around, particularly for the second, third and fifth jobs, but it was more about the fact it was just a very busy 24 hours - it can be quite draining when it’s like that.”

In total, the crew spent almost ten hours on the various call-outs.

Published 25 May 2010