News story

Rescue capabilities put to the test

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Members of the Royal Air Force Search and Rescue Force have taken part in a multi-agency exercise in Cardiff Bay.

Members of the Welsh Ambulance Service prepare to remove a casualty from the 22 Squadron Royal Air Force Sea King [Picture: Senior Aircraftwoman Gina Edgcumbe, Crown copyright]
Preparing to remove a casualty from the 22 Squadron Sea King

The RAF search and rescue personnel were put through their paces along with various other emergency services when they were faced with a major incident in a scenario for Exercise Red Dragon.

The exercise saw the RAF join forces with the Cardiff Harbour Authority, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, South Wales Fire and Rescue, South Wales Police and the Welsh Ambulance Service to respond to a collision involving 2 vessels; persons were reported to be in the water and some were unaccounted for.

Cardiff Harbour Authority, the body responsible for the management and operation of Cardiff Bay, came together with other organisations to plan an exercise that would test the response to a major incident involving a person or persons in grave and imminent danger requiring immediate assistance.

A member of the Hazardous Area Response Team being winched
A member of the Hazardous Area Response Team in the process of being winched aboard a lifeboat [Picture: Senior Aircraftwoman Gina Edgcumbe, Crown copyright]

The RAF Search and Rescue Force was just a small piece in this jigsaw of emergency services as they all merged together and united as one to plan and conduct the safe extraction of casualties from the water.

An RAF team member said:

It’s of great value when we get involved with this type of exercise as it allows us to work closely with other agencies.

It’s very important that we all have an understanding of each other’s operating procedures and capabilities, which ultimately ensures that should this happen for real we can step right in and work together more efficiently.

The immediate concern for the RAF search and rescue crew of ‘Rescue 169’, from ‘A’ Flight of 22 Squadron based at Chivenor, was to establish how many persons were involved in the incident.

Members of the Royal Air Force and the Hazardous Area Response Team
Members of the Royal Air Force and the Hazardous Area Response Team liaise before the RAF Sea King's next sortie [Picture: Senior Aircraftwoman Gina Edgcumbe, Crown copyright]

After liaising with the incident commander on arrival, they commenced an orbital search of the immediate area using their Sea King helicopter’s onboard infrared camera system and the observational skills of the winchman at the door of the Sea King.

Whilst in its orbital search pattern, Rescue 169 was in constant communication with all agencies, including the exercise control centre.

Then, once the casualties had been located, 4 of them were winched on board the Sea King; 2 from the water and the others from on board one of the vessels involved in the ‘collision’.

The Sea King then made its way to the makeshift landing site, which was set up and administered by members of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, and the casualties were transferred to the waiting ambulances.

The RAF Sea King hovers over the scene of the incident
The RAF Sea King hovers over the scene of the incident [Picture: Senior Aircraftwoman Gina Edgcumbe, Crown copyright]

This course of action allowed the aircraft the freedom to continue its search of the area and to also be in a position to assist other agencies if required.

On completion of the transfer of casualties the crew of Rescue 169 assisted the Royal National Lifeboat Institution inshore rescue crew by winching down 2 members of the Hazardous Area Response Team onto a lifeboat.

This was the first time that this procedure had been used in Wales for getting specialist paramedics to a stricken vessel to administer first aid.

After completing its tasking, Rescue 169 was stood down and returned to its base to refuel. The search for further missing personnel was undertaken by the South Wales Police Specialist Search Team who were tasked by the duty exercise controller.

Published 8 April 2014