News Article

HMS Gannet's aircrews amass honours for life-saving deeds

A History and Honour news article

6 Mar 09

25 per cent of the Royal Navy's search and rescue aircrew at HMS Gannet have been recognised for their outstanding bravery in the Operational Honours Awards that have been announced today, Friday 6 March 2009.

A Gannet Sea King helicopter

Gannet Sea King helicopters rescue people from mountainsides
[Picture: Royal Navy]

Gannet is a modest helicopter search and rescue station based on the periphery of Prestwick Airport in Scotland with just 20 aircrew, five of whom have been honoured today.

Lieutenant Commander Martin Lanni and Lieutenant Mike Paulet have been presented with the Air Force Cross, Leading Aircrewman Kevin Regan receives the Queen's Gallantry Medal and Lieutenant Commander Martin 'Florry' Ford and Petty Officer Darren 'Daz' Craig receive the Queen's Commendation for Bravery in the Air.

The honours covered four complex and dangerous rescues - two on Ben Nevis, the rescue of passengers from the MV Riverdance ferry off Blackpool in January 2008, for which RAF personnel have also been honoured, and one at Loch Long in Argyll.

The two Air Force Crosses, which are awarded in recognition of exemplary gallantry in the air on non-active operations, are the first to be received by Royal Navy personnel since one was announced in March 2005 in recognition of the August 2004 rescue efforts at Boscastle in Cornwall. The recipient of that Air Force Cross was Lt Cdr Florry Ford, then serving with Rescue 771 in Culdrose and now part of HMS Gannet. Prior to this the Air Force Cross hadn't been awarded since 1999.

The unit's commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Bryan Nicholas, said:

"This must be just about unheard of - such a high proportion of a unit amassing such a large clutch of honours at the same time. I really am incredibly proud of these men and the dedication and determination which they have shown in the face of substantial adversity.

"All the rescues were very different, but one thing they had in common was that they saved lives and risked their own to ensure that the outcome was positive."

"This must be just about unheard of - such a high proportion of a unit amassing such a large clutch of honours at the same time. I really am incredibly proud of these men and the dedication and determination which they have shown in the face of substantial adversity."

Lieutenant Commander Bryan Nicholas

Lieutenant Commanders Martin Lanni and Martin 'Florry' Ford have been honoured today for the rescue of three men trapped on a ledge in the vicinity of the notorious Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis in May 2007. Out of reach of mountain rescue teams, under cover of darkness and in the teeth of a blizzard, the four-man crew of the helicopter worked for more than six hours to execute this rescue. Forced off the mountain four times to regroup, they doggedly returned to the rock face, determined to ensure that no lives were lost. After plucking the three climbers to safety and aware too of a dropping fuel gauge, the team returned twice more to lift 12 members of the mountain rescue teams to safety.

Lieutenant Mike Paulet and Leading Aircrewman Kevin Regan have been honoured for the rescue of crew form the ferry MV Riverdance which was stranded in the Irish Sea off Blackpool in January 2008. As part of a multi-agency task group, the Gannet crew along with RAF Valley colleagues and HM Coastguard's helicopter from Belfast, responded to a mayday call from the ferry MV Riverdance. Under cover of darkness, Gannet's crew undertook a rescue co-ordination role on arrival, in support of RAF Valley, which began the initial winch of eight crew members. Once they were aboard the RAF Sea King, Gannet's team then moved in to position to take off a further six crew. Leading Aircrewman Kevin Regan was set down on the deck of the stricken ferry, which was listing to 45 degrees, and he began to winch people off two at a time. The whole incident was conducted at pace, as conditions were so tricky.

Leading Aircrewman Kevin Regan received his Queen's Gallantry Medal also for an incident in June 2007 at Loch Long, Argyll, where he rescued a man from the water. The man had already been in the water for an estimated 25 minutes, but was resistant to rescue attempts as he was intoxicated on drugs and highly combative. Leading Aircrewman Regan decided to winch down from the helicopter, initially meeting with great aggression from the casualty. However, despite fighting Leading Aircrewman Regan, the man shortly succumbed to exhaustion and passed out allowing recovery to the helicopter to be effected. The winch was made difficult as he was essentially a non-responsive dead-weight, but Leading Aircrewman Regan succeeded in bringing him into the helicopter, before administering emergency first aid en route to hospital.

Rear Admiral Charlier (third from left) and the Gannet Operational Honours Awards recipients

From left: Lieutenant Mike Paulet, Leading Aircrewman Kevin Regan, Rear Admiral Charlier, Lieutenant Commander Martin Lanni, Petty Officer Darren 'Daz' Craig and Lieutenant Commander Martin 'Florry' Ford
[Picture: LA(Phot) Karen Williams]

Petty Officer Darren 'Daz' Craig receives the Queen's Commendation for Bravery in the Air for winching down to save two climbers stranded in perilous circumstances at Tower Scoop on Ben Nevis - a notoriously hostile area of the mountain - in February 2008. One climber had slipped and fallen some 200ft (61m) down a sheer ice wall and was secured by only a single rope which was still attached to his partner. Below him was some 3,500ft (1,067m) of fresh air. Because of the man's proximity to the rock face, it was necessary for the helicopter to maintain a high hover to ensure no contact was made with the mountain.

As a result, Petty Officer Craig was winched down on 150 feet (46m) of cable - a very tricky manoeuvre which immediately placed him at considerable risk. As a paramedic, Petty Officer Craig was able to determine that the climber was probably suffering from fractures to his upper leg and arm, and he was aware the casualty was also extremely frightened. Despite the grave danger to himself, Petty Officer Craig selflessly pursued this rescue, sustaining injuries to himself from the jagged rock face, and finally managing to get the terrified climber and his partner into the helicopter and thus to safety.

HMS Gannet covers a huge 98,000 square mile (254,000 square kilometres) area from the Lake District in the south to Ben Nevis in the north, and from Edinburgh in the east to 200 miles (322km) off the coast of Northern Ireland. It takes in some of the UK's most hostile and treacherous stretches of water and mountain areas, as well as many of Scotland's Hebridean islands - all washed down with the worst conditions the British weather has to throw at them.

HMS Gannet is manned by just 110 personnel which include maintenance and engineering workers, administrative support and meteorological support. The aircrew are on call 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week, 365-days-a-year, providing the Navy's only rotary wing assets north of Somerset.

Operational Honours and Awards List: 6 March 2009
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