The DFDS Seaways vessel, The Princess Seaways, was 20 miles (32km) into the North Sea at just after 2030hrs on Monday night, en route from Newcastle to IJmuiden in the Netherlands, when the young woman plummeted more than 70 feet (20m) into the sea after falling from the ferry’s ninth deck in pitch darkness.
After Humber Coastguard was alerted, an RAF Sea King helicopter was scrambled and lifeboat crews were placed on standby, but it was the ferry’s own rescue craft which located the woman, named by her rescuers as Jenny from Welwyn Garden City, and brought her to safety on board.
The 23-year-old woman, who had survived the 70-foot fall and spent more than 30 minutes in the water, was winched from the ferry deck into the RAF Search and Rescue helicopter by Sergeant Jim Bethell RAF, and flown to Scarborough Hospital.
Sergeant Bethell is the winchman from E Flight, based at Leconfield, part of the RAF’s 202 Squadron:
The girl fell 70 feet into the sea, which is a pretty steep fall in itself,” he said. “Jenny was obviously very cold but luckily the boat’s crew had done a very good job.
The main challenge was that the crew had managed to turn the ferry around and pick her up. It was a dark night with virtually no moon and it was quite a cold, choppy sea.
To spin a ferry around and spot somebody in the water who wasn’t wearing a life jacket was very difficult, the equivalent of looking for a needle in a haystack.
It was amazing that they managed to spot her. That was where the hard work was done.
By the time Sergeant Bethell arrived at the scene, Jenny had been plucked from the sea and brought back onto the ferry:
It was relatively straightforward from my viewpoint. I checked her over, wrapped her up so she was warm, laid her on a stretcher and took her to hospital.
Sergeant Bethell is a member of the four-strong helicopter crew comprising two pilots, a radar operator and a winchman:
Because the ferry is so big, the winch wasn’t difficult to be honest.
Barely conscious, Jenny came round during the flight to hospital. Sergeant Bethell concluded:
She was still in a bad way while on the ferry but, as she slowly started to warm up, she came round and could hold a basic conversation.
Jenny was kept in hospital overnight before being allowed home.