Huge rescue operation airlifts two injured crew from a dismasted Swan 65

A huge rescue operation was mounted yesterday, involving three ships, two helicopters, a Nimrod plane and two Hercules tanker aircraft, to airlift injured crew from a Swan 65 after she was rolled and dismasted in storm force conditions in the north Atlantic. Falmouth Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre received a distress signal from an EPIRB belonging to a British yacht, Persuader, locating her 480 miles west-south-west of the Scilly Isles.

After establishing communications by Sat C, they determined that the yacht had been rolled and dismasted and that two of the seven crew were injured, one with broken ribs and another with suspected internal bleeding. A link call to a doctor was set up, who advised that the crew should be evacuated as soon as possible.

As the yacht was out of range of a Sea King helicopter, Falmouth MRCC diverted three ships to the yacht’s position. However, it was impossible to attempt a transfer of the injured crew. “Conditions were westerly Force 8-9, gusting 10, moderate visibility with rain and 6-8m seas,” Colin Sturman, district controller of Falmouth MRCC, told us. “Getting the injured off by ship was too dangerous.”

The crew of Persuader, three of whom are believed to be professional, were able to cut away most of the rig and begin motoring back to the UK. However, faced with the prospect that it would be another 24 or 36 hours before they would be within Sea King range, Falmouth MRCC called on the US Special Operations Squadron, which is currently at Mildenhall, East Englia, and was available to help.

They use Pavelow helicopters – nicknamed ‘Jolly Green Giants’ – which are longer range and faster than Sea Kings, flying at 150 knots instead of the Sea King’s 120 knots. Crucially, this means that they are able to refuel in mid-air from tanker aircraft and could make a round trip of nearly 1,000 miles.

Two US helicopters were sent to RAF St Mawgan. A Nimrod aircraft was sent ahead for the sea search, and a Pavelow helicopter flew to the yacht’s position, refuelling on the way out and on the way back from two Hercules planes. In severe conditions, one of the diverted ships was able to give a lee as the two injured crew were winched off the yacht. They are now in hospital in the UK.

After the rescue, two of the ships were released by Falmouth MRCC. One is still standing by while the yacht motors towards Falmouth, as she is said to be rolling heavily and the skipper is fearful that they may capsize again.