The crew of the Royal Navy Sea King had to winch casualties from two ridges

The crew of the Royal Navy Sea King had to winch casualties from two ridges

The helicopter crew of Britain’s busiest search and rescue base was involved in four mountain rescues yesterday in the space of nine hours.

Their tasks included flying a seriously injured climber from the Sròn na Cìche accident on Skye, along with two medical specialists, from Broadford to hospital in Glasgow.

The Sea King crew from HMS Gannet in Ayrshire was first called to help an injured walker on the Carn Mòr Dearg Arête route below Ben Nevis’s summit at 5pm. The man was with three others 1,280m (4,200ft) up on the ridge when he fell and injured his shoulder.

There were high winds and turbulent conditions as the crew of four approached.

Pilot Major Mike Devereux of the Royal Marines said: “With no possibility of landing to retrieve the casualty due to the terrain, it became clear we were going to have to go with a winch recovery and this was really quite tricky.

“There was a significant amount of turbulence on the ben at that height and the cloud was also closing in fast.

“In fact, at one stage, there was no visibility on the left hand side of the helicopter. We also had to reduce our fuel load to achieve the required stability and manoeuvrability.

“We lowered Corporal Andy Firth Royal Marines on the winch and he was able to make the casualty comfortable before winching back into the helicopter.”

The HMS Gannet crew was also put on alert to help potentially with the fatal accident on the Cuillin, where Coastguard and RAF helicopters were airlifting casualties from the site of a rockfall involving six climbers.

But as the Royal Navy helicopter crew was dealing with the CMD Arête incident, they were told of another casualty in Glencoe’s hidden valley under Bidean nam Bian. The Nevis walker was taken to the Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team base from where he was driven to hospital.

The Sea King was then able to land in the hidden valley and pick up the walker who had injured an ankle, before airlifting the casualty to the Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team base.

After refuelling at Corpach, the crew then went to the aid of a cragfast climber on the Aonach Eagach ridge above Glencoe. A member of the Glencoe MRT was with the man at 600m (2,000ft) on an exposed section of the route.

Major Devereux said: “It wasn’t quite as turbulent as the Nevis rescue, but it was still very exposed and we really wanted to get in and out of there as quickly as we could.

“We were aware that cloud could close in at any time. And this was rather a hair-raising one for our aircrewman Andy, who was lowered down on the winchline to recover the casualty and the MRT member.

“Due to the terrain, it involved 150ft of winch cable below the helicopter which was being buffeted by the wind, and above a sheer 2,000ft drop. Not for the faint-hearted.

“But Andy did a really good job, got both the people on board and we were then able to transfer them to safety at the bottom of the mountain.

“And then, we were finally able to return to base at Prestwick.”

With Major Devereux on board were Royal Marines pilot Captain Michael ‘Jack’ Frost, winchman and medical responder Corporal Andy Firth and observer Lieutenant Phil Gamble of the Royal Navy.

Within 20 minutes of landing, the crew was again scrambled to fly to Skye to transfer the injured climber to Glasgow for treatment.

“Broadford is some 100 miles north of Gannet,” Major Devereux said, “but the quickest way is to fly across water and it was extremely challenging last night. By this stage, daylight had almost gone and there was a lot of low cloud, rain and turbulence.

“It was tricky piloting conditions, and we were juggling the safety of the aircraft and team, with the need to get to Broadford as quickly as possible to pick up the casualty.”

The helicopter landed on Skye at 11.05pm and was only on the ground a short while, before getting airborne again with the casualty and two medical experts on the flight back to Glasgow, landing at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre around 1am.

The crew landed back at its base at about 2.15am after nine hours spent on the rescues.

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