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Royal Navy makes epic rescue in perilous seas

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

A team of Royal Navy aviators rescued an injured man from his yacht yesterday evening in very difficult conditions - a Sea State of 8 and a 40-foot (12m) swell.

The conditions were truly atrocious - ‘Sea State’ refers to the state of the sea in respect of wind, waves and swell, with a scale running from 0 (calm, glassy) to 9 (phenomenal). Sea State 6 is very rough, while Sea State 8 is described as very high with waves of 9 to 14 metres in height.

The rescue was a result of all four of the crew working closely together using great skill to locate the casualty, keep the aircraft in a steady position and get the casualty safely into the aircraft.

The duty crew of 771 Naval Air Squadron, based at Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Culdrose in Helston, carried out the risky operation following a ‘scramble’ to a lone sailor in difficulties shortly before 2000hrs.

Having conducted a visual search of the area for over an hour, 70 miles (113km) out at sea, in very poor visibility, the team located the sailor when he lit a flare. The Navy team then had to work out the safest way to get the man away from his 20-foot (6m) yacht up into the helicopter and away from the scene.

Members of 771 Naval Air Squadron during a cliff-winching exercise (library image)
Members of 771 Naval Air Squadron during a cliff-winching exercise (library image) [Picture: Petty Officer Airman (Photographer) Paul A'Barrow, Crown Copyright/MOD 2012]

Royal Marines Corporal Justin Morgan was winched down to rescue the sailor:

We received a call that there was a lone sailor in difficulties about 70 miles out to sea, just before 8pm last night,” he said.

The 40-foot waves made it very difficult to search for him, and using a manual search in very poor visibility we located him in about an hour-and-a-half. The sailor had fallen over on his 20-foot yacht whilst trying to fix his masts and rigging. He slipped and injured his ankle.

We lowered a hi-line to him, which should enable the winchman to be lowered safely onto the deck of the boat. However, the sailor was so desperate to get off the yacht that he tied the hi-line around his waist and jumped into the water. We then had to act very quickly to ensure his safety.

Corporal Morgan was then lowered down into the water by Lieutenant Commander Florry Ford and had to attempt to pull the sailor towards him:

I knew that I couldn’t let go of the 200-foot (61m) rope, even though it was very heavy, or we would lose the sailor,” Cpl Morgan explained.

It was really difficult to pull him towards me though due to the extremely high waves. Eventually I had to inflate my own lifejacket to make this easier and I managed to get the strop around him so that the crew on the helicopter could winch him to safety.

However, the 200-foot rope was tangled all around us, so I had to cut this from us first. When we were eventually both safely back in the helicopter we both lay on the floor thinking about what we had been through. It was an ‘epic’ job.

The rescued yachtsman was taken to the Royal Cornwall Hospital.

2012 is a very big year for Cpl Morgan, who was one of the crew who transported the Olympic Flame from RNAS Culdrose to Land’s End at the start of the Torch Relay. He will soon be attempting to cycle 3,100 miles (5,000km) across the USA in 17 days.

The trip, which will take him from San Diego to New York, begins on 22 August and will raise money for the Children’s Hospice South West and the Royal Marines Benevolent Fund. For more information, please see Cpl Morgan’s JustGiving fundraising page at the Related Links.