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RAF Search & Rescue teams receive Air Force Crosses

Members of the RAF Search and Rescue teams based in Scotland and the South-West of England, will receive Air Force Crosses at Buckingham Palace.

Flight Sergeant John Carrigan, a winchman from 202 Squadron based at RAF Lossiemouth, Scotland, will receive his Air Force Cross on Friday 5 December for his part in rescuing 18 fishermen in the North-Sea some 260 miles west of the outer Hebrides, last February. After a Nimrod located the stricken vessel, ‘La Parrain’, a Sea-King rescue helicopter battled through appalling weather to reach Benbecula where they refuelled, knowing that the boat was at the very limit of the Sea King range.

The helicopter captain, Flight Lieutenant Tony Gear and his co-pilot Rob Green took off in darkness from Benbecula in time to get to the boat at first light. In the back of the helo, Squadron Leader John Ardley (his final search mission before retiring) and the winchman John Carrigan got ready. They would have liked the normal 40 minutes hovering about the stricken vessel to winch the men up. Gear knew they had to do that in half the time. In one of the most dramatic operations in RAF Search and Rescue history, they winched the men up, two at a time, with Carrigan perched on the ship’s deck putting them in the rescue harness. Several times the vessel was hit by huge waves. On one occasion Gear looked down the 70 feet to the boat below only to find himself eyeball to eyeball with Carrigan for a few seconds until the boat crashed down into the waves. ‘Le Parrain’ frequently listed 60 degrees to port in the violent swell, making the task all the more difficult.

Carrigan knew that if anything went wrong he might be left on deck with the last two survivors. He decided to bring them and himself up in one lift, with Ardley coaxing the winch. Both knew the mechanism was stretched beyond its limits, and although damaged, they got everyone on board. The plan was then to use the 70 mph wind to hurtle them to the faroes. With the wind swinging to the west, Gear brought the aircraft – and 18 very grateful fishermen – back to safety at Stornoway, with less than ten minutes’ fuel left.

5 December 2003

For Previous News Stories, please see the 97 News Archive, 98 News Archive, 99 News Archive, 00 News Archive, 01 News Archive and 02 News Archive.


Date Last Updated : Thursday, December 4, 2003 4:50 PM

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