News story

RAF in cliff-side driver rescue

An RAF Search and Rescue (SAR) team yesterday helped rescue a woman who plunged towards a cliff edge in Cornwall in her car. Report by Lorraine McBride.

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

The RAF team was part of a multi-agency rescue operation who came to the aid of the woman in St Agnes Head where, in misty weather, at around 1600hrs on Monday, 25 July 2011, she took a wrong turn, plunging the blue Vauxhall Vectra an estimated 300ft (91m) down a steep slope towards a cliff edge.

The car rolled several times down the slope before coming to rest on a ledge, just metres from a large drop. With her car stranded and being badly injured and unable to call for help, the driver was trapped overnight.

Fortunately, jogger Ben Stafford was out running with his wife and friends at 0900hrs the next morning when they spotted the car. Ben scrambled down, and when Mr Stafford learned that the woman had been stranded for 17 hours, he called the police who, in turn, sent an urgent request to the UK Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre for a helicopter to attend the scene.

Watch video footage of the rescue operation, taken from onboard the RAF Search and Rescue helicopter.

RAF Sea King, callsign RESCUE 169, from A Flight, 22 Squadron, took off from its base at Royal Marine Base Chivenor at 0938hrs, arriving at St Agnes Head in just under 20 minutes. The crew landed the helicopter on top of the cliffs, after surveying the scene and taking care to ensure their rotor downwash did not dislodge the car, nor endanger the rescuers.

Describing the incident, spokesman, Squadron Leader Dave Webster, said:

The helicopter crew instantly saw that the cliff rescue teams were attempting to rescue the woman using ropes to make sure that it did not dislodge the vehicle and send it tumbling to the rocks below.

They took the sensible decision not to attempt a direct winch attempt, because the casualty was trapped inside. The most important priority was to stop the situation worsening, so they landed on the top of the cliff and shut down.

Sqn Ldr Webster said that the rescue operation comprised two volunteer cliff rescue teams from St Agnes and Newquay, fire and rescue services, ambulances, police, firefighters, paramedics and the RAF SAR team, involving a total of 70 people.

The officer told how the rescue operation used ropes to secure the car to prevent it falling and then extracted the driver who was taken to the cliff-top.

The casualty was then loaded on-board the Sea King SAR helicopter, which took off at 1135hrs and whisked the casualty to the Royal Cornwall Hospital, at Treliske in Truro, arriving just four minutes later at 1139hrs.

The Sea King’s radar/winch operator, Sergeant Martin Seward, shot aerial footage of the incident site, which contains a wide view showing the scale of the cliffs, a zoom shot of the car on the cliff’s ledge, the car’s position and the deployed Fire and Rescue Service personnel, as well as HM Coast Guard Cliff-Rescue personnel. See Related Links.

The Sea King’s four-man crew comprised captain Flight Lieutenant John Rowe, co-pilot Flight Lieutenant Christian ‘Taff’ Wilkins, Royal Navy winchman Chief Petty Officer Andy Penrose, and winch-operator Sgt Seward.

Sqn Ldr Webster said the injured woman was conscious but not ‘seriously injured’ and was able to talk to crew. The unnamed woman is now recovering in hospital.

Squadron Leader Webster said:

It was bread-and-butter work for our crew. There were so many rescue services on the scene that it was a real joint effort.

Published 27 July 2011