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Submarine Rescue 118

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  • Submarine Rescue 118

    An interesting article, be it 2 years old I spotted in CHC's Rotortales magazine.


    On the 8th of March 2007 at approximately 2300 hrs, the Sligo Search and Rescue base received an emergency call from its tasking authority (Malin Head Coast Guard radio station). A British submarine (approximately 150 miles west of the Sligo coastline) had reported a medical emergency. A sailor on the submarine had a potentially life-threatening
    cardiac condition, and an immediate transfer was requested.

    The duty crew that night in Sligo were Martin Wood (Capt) Leif Holmgarde (Co pilot), Davitt Ward (Winch man) and myself, Aiden Thompson (Winch Operator). Because of the severe weather conditions on scene and the fact that this was the first ever submarine transfer in Irish waters (by an Irish rescue helicopter), we were instructed to arrive overhead of the vessel at daybreak (at a pre-designated point). Back in the Sligo base there was a very detailed pre-flight brief and all aspects of a submarine transfer were discussed.

    We discussed where we would winch from, how we would transfer the casualty onto the helicopter (considering his condition) and other details. At 0600hrs, Rescue 118 lifted off from Sligo and routed 110 miles west into the Atlantic Ocean. We travelled with a sense
    of anticipation and an eagerness to do our best for the casualty (in what were sure to be very tricky conditions). Rescue 51 a British RAF Nimrod was to provide top cover and rebroadcast our marine communications back to the mainland.

    At 0700hrs (just as day was breaking) R118 arrived at the predesignated rendezvous
    point and we opened up communications with the submarine. The submarine surfaced about one mile in front of us, and we slowly approached to the briefing point. Surface wind was from 270° at 50kts and the sea state was very rough (approximately 8-9 meter waves). The conning tower of the submarine was being washed over, and we were not sure if a transfer was going to be possible. Soon after, both the communication and radar antenna were removed from our target area, and 3 submariners appeared in the conning
    tower and gave us hand signals that it was clear to commence winching.

    Because of the obvious lack of space in the conning tower, we opted to use a bosun chair hi-line lift to remove the patient. After several practice approaches wedecided to go live. The submarine was having difficulty holding its course and visual references were hard to keep, but we managed to attach the hi line first and safely place the winch man into the conning tower in 50kt winds.

    The winch man remained on board the vessel for approximately 20 mins while he prepared the injured crewman for the transfer. Shortly afterwards, the crewman and winch man returned to the top of the conning tower and a tricky but safe transfer was completed. The hi line was discarded, and when all were safely onboard the helicopter, we transited away from the vessel and returned to the mainland. Our aircraft R118 was still
    chaperoned by R51 until approx 30 miles west of the mainland when we released
    them and thanked them for their assistance.

    This was a very difficult and unusual scenario for helicopter crew to conduct, and one that we (as Irish crew) have never trained for before. It was only with careful planning and an experienced crew onboard that this rescue was possible. The rescued crewman was taken to Sligo General Hospital where he was diagnosed with pneumonia, treated and released
    several days later.

    Unfortunately because of the nature and position of the vessel we cannot be more specific with details, but we certainly gained valuable experience and knowledge from this unusual and difficult tasking.
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