Kudos for Another Great Team Rescue

Huge congratulations to this UK Search and Rescue crew on scooping the prestigious Prince Philip Helicopter Rescue Award for 2023. 

The international plaudit, presented to Newquay-based Captain Debdash “Debs” Bhattacharya, Captain Mark Coupland, Winch Operator Jason “Jase” Bibby and Winchman-Paramedic Carlton Real  is yet another accolade for the team’s world-class response to a yacht caught in Storm Claudio last October. 

This latest award comes hot on the heels of the Collins Aerospace 2023 Rescue of the Year, the Edward and Maisie Lewis Award for Outstanding Air-Sea Rescue, and, uniquely, the Silver Medal Service Certificate on Vellum from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).

Incredibly, the Edward and Maisie Lewis Award means Bristow’s Newquay team has now been recognized by the Shipwrecked Mariner’s Society for three years in a row: 2021, 2022, and 2023!

“It is just fantastic to see how the international SAR community has acknowledged this rescue,” said Bristow’s UK SAR Director, Graham Hamilton.

“The way this team worked – and I include their counterparts on the water and colleagues in the base – really brought to life all the Bristow values. 

“They are worthy winners of this prestigious award as well as all the others they have received.”

The Honourable Company of Air Pilots, who presented the award at The Guildhall in London on 26 October, called the rescue: “Another astonishing act of selflessness and professionalism … performed by the crew of Rescue 924, an HM Coastguard helicopter operated by Bristow.”

sea rescue

Commenting on the rescue, Captain Debs Bhattacharya said: “I doubt that we could have performed this rescue without the incredibly brave actions of the Penlee Lifeboat, the Ivan Ellen. 

“We arrived on-scene to find the yacht slewing, pitching, rolling, and surging behind the lifeboat.  The lifeboat crew had somehow managed to pass a tow-line to the yacht which had lost its sails and was taking on water through smashed portholes in complete darkness, huge seas and gale force winds." 

Talking to Coxwain Patch Harvey the SAR team learned that the first line to the vessel had broken but a second attempt had been successful. This was as the lifeboat was rolling heavily in the seas, with waves regularly washing over the deck and the sea-spray engulfing the upper steering position.  The deck crew repeatedly found themselves up to their waists in the swirling water and had to hang on to whatever came to hand to avoid being washed overboard.

Captain Bhattacharya said: “Establishing the tow was critically important as it prevented the yacht from being driven onto the rocks of the Lizard peninsular and reduced the risk of it capsizing. 

“Over the next hour we embarked on the most testing SAR job that any of us had faced before.  In the aircraft Mark, Jase and I worked hard to mimic the erratic movements of the yacht which was still yawing through up to 90 degrees as it alternately surged and then almost came to a halt on successive waves.  On the deck, Carlton was often in free-fall as the yacht heaved up and down, complicating his task of he tending to the yachtsmen and managing their extraction.”

Winchman-Paramedic Carlton Real said: “There was no better feeling than returning to the aircraft after the last lift to see eight smiling faces in the cabin.” 

The yachtsmen were flown to Newquay where they were warmed, given dry clothes and handed over to the Coastguard Team who sourced them overnight accommodation. 

Captain Bhattacharya went on to say: “it is hugely rewarding and humbling for our part in this rescue to have been recognised so widely.  In particular, recognition by the RNLI is not given lightly and we feel that the events which unfolded on the 31st have forged even closer ties between us and the Penlee lifeboat. 

“I would add that every rescue starts with the challenge of getting the aircraft out of the hangar, fuelled and ready for flight, often in atrocious conditions, and the rescue doesn’t end until the aircraft is recovered and put to bed in its hangar.

“We are hugely fortunate to have a highly experienced engineering team at Newquay and B1 Engineer Keith Miller and B2 Engineer Paul Matthews played a vital part in enabling this rescue.  Quite simply, without their efforts we would not have got off the ground!”