Helicopter winchman's daring rescue after boat sinks off Irish coast gets royal approval
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Helicopter winchman's daring rescue after boat sinks off Irish coast gets royal approval

A HELICOPTER crewman who saved a fisherman's life after his boat capsized off the West of Ireland coast has been given the royal seal of approval for his bravery.

Winchman Gary Robertson of CHC Ireland has received the Billy Deacon Search and Rescue Memorial Trophy for his role in a life-saving mission with the Irish Coast Guard last year.

The trophy was presented at the Air League’s Annual Awards Ceremony at St. James Palace, on May 30, by HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

On April 9, 2016, Rescue 118 was scrambled by Malin Head Maritime Rescue Centre to a report of a capsized vessel and a person in the water by Innisinny Bay, Arranmore Island some 60 miles North West of Sligo.

Battling cold temperatures and large sea swells, Rescue 118 arrived to discover that the fishing boat had already sunk with a man clinging to a life buoy in the water.

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He had managed to inflate his lifejacket but had no survival suit as he struggled to stay above the waves.

It was clear that a swift rescue was required to save the fisherman’s life and so winchman Robertson was deployed.

As he approached through heavy seas, it quickly became apparent that the rescue would be more complex than anticipated as the fisherman was tangled in thick rope that was still attached to the lifebuoy and tethered to the submerged boat.

Acutely aware that both he, the casualty and ultimately Rescue 118 were all indirectly attached to the submerged vessel, Robertson reached for his knife to cut the rope as the rescue helicopter hovered above.

Once freed, the fisherman was raised to safety but the severity of his condition soon became clear - he was semi-conscious, frothing at the mouth and turning blue.

Robertson and his winch operator immediately began life-saving medical care.

"The swift and extraordinary physical and mentally exhausting efforts from the dynamic action of Gary Robertson, both in the water and in the aircraft, resulted in this casualty’s life being saved," the Awards committee said.

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The Billy Deacon SAR Memorial Trophy is awarded to winchmen and/or winch operators from contracted (MCA) Helicopter Flights operating within British and Irish search and rescue (SAR) regions.

The award committee, independently chaired by the Operations Director of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, sits annually to consider nominations.

The Memorial Trophy was established to further the memory of Mr. Billy Deacon - a winchman for Bristow Helicopters who tragically died while carrying out his duty in the Shetland Isles in 1997.

“On behalf of CHC, I want to say how proud I am that Gary has been awarded the prestigious Billy Deacon Trophy,” said Mark Abbey, CHC Regional Director, Europe, Middle East and Africa.

“Gary’s lifesaving actions exemplified the professionalism and bravery of our SAR crews, working in the most challenging conditions."