The Honourable Company of Air Pilots incorporating Air Navigators

The Prince Philip Helicopter Rescue Award

Awarded to an individual member of a helicopter crew, a complete crew or the crews of multiple helicopters, for an act of outstanding courage or devotion to duty in the course of land or sea search and rescue operations.


2018 Awarded to: The Hong Kong Government Flying Service


Typhoon Hato hit Hong Kong on 23 August 2017, bringing a No 10 signal and severe weather conditions to the region. At 1315L GFS was informed by the HK Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) that multiple distress signals had been received from an area of the South China Sea some 30 km SW of Hong Kong. Only later did it become clear that 17 vessels had reported being in distress, with over 100 crew requiring assistance. Over the course of the next two days HK GFS 01GFS launched 16 helicopter and 5 fixed wing missions, eventually rescuing 50 survivors in gruelling conditions from 6 vessels that had sunk or were aground.

Two Super Pumas were rapidly deployed and (Rescue 34 & 84) arrived on scene at 1422 & 1426 after battling through severe weather enroute. The rescue scene was utter chaos, and it gradually became apparent that numerous cargo vessels had been sunk or driven by the storm force winds and high seas onto several rocky islands including Sanjiaoshan Dao and Guishan Dao. The first vessel to be located was the 100m cargo vessel ‘Xin Ke 11’, which was broken in half, with the stern section being spun by the waves and listing badly. Despite the 6m swell and pounding seas, the crew of Rescue 34 eventually managed to rescue 14 survivors from the remains of the vessel and return to GFS by 1500.

The second helicopter, Rescue 84, spotted a semi-submerged ship, the 120m ‘SE Panthea’, and managed to rescue 2 exhausted survivors in lifevests from the nearby waves, followed by another 5 from a drifting liferaft. Debris and diesel were constant hazards for the rescuers. R84 finally arrived at GFS at 1645. The next helicopter to arrive on scene was R65 at 1520, tasked with a rescue from cargo vessel ‘Solid 2’. At this point there were 3 helicopters all working together on separate rescues in the same area, with poor weather and obstacles compounding the risk levels.

PPH HK Gov FSR65 spotted another floating survivor amidst the wreckage, and with no little difficulty managed to recover his oil covered, barely conscious body from the water. Given his deteriorating condition he was immediately flown back to GFS. Crews were changed at GFS and the fourth and fifth helicopters arrived on scene at 1530 and 1650, and once more battled the atrocious conditions to search, locate and rescue two and one more floating survivors respectively, returning to GFS with them by 1600 and 1800.

Still the mission went on. R87 launched at 1725 and again located merchant vessel ‘SE Panthea’ now aground on a small island, being rolled by the pounding waves, with swinging derrick cranes and flailing cables compounding the hazards for the rescue crews. The rescue was necessarily protracted, and 12 of the 16 seamen were recovered before the helicopter suffered a mechanical problem which forced the crew to leave the scene and return to GFS. Fortunately, R81 was on hand to recover the remaining 4 survivors and return to GFS as night was falling.

Given the appalling conditions and hazardous environment, the decision was made to suspend the operation overnight. Mindful that more lives could be at peril, however, the operation resumed at first light on 24 Aug, R62 arriving on scene at 0530 to conduct a full search of the area. Nine more survivors were located and rescued from stranded vessels and rocky shorelines and returned to GFS, bringing the total saved by helicopter to 50 persons. Search operations continued throughout the day, including both helicopter and fixed wing aircraft but no more survivors were located. MRCC later confirmed that further survivors had been picked up by surface rescue units, but 1 crewman was confirmed dead, and to this day there are still at least 8 more persons still missing, suspected deceased.

This was an unprecedented rescue operation in the recent history of the region, involving multiple distressed vessels and large numbers of survivors. The rescue crews had to contend with severe weather and a hazardous environment, as well as making decisions based on fragmented information. Despite these obstacles, all rescue crews involved displayed exemplary skills, professionalism and coordination to save the lives of these 50 souls.  Multiple helicopters and crews were involved in this extensive rescue operation and, accordingly, the entire Hong Kong Government Flying Service is awarded the Prince Philip Helicopter Rescue award in recognition of its combined performance and the outstanding devotion to duty demonstrated by all its crews.


Previous Winners:

1978/79  Captain G Bain, Captain C C Bosanquet, Captain A Campbell, B Johnstone Esq

1979/80 Flt Lt R E Neville, Flt Lt M J Lakey, Flt Sgt J K Moody, Flt Sgt C M Yarwood

1980/81 Master Air Loadmaster David Edward Bullock GC (posthumously)

1981/82 Lieutenant Commander H S Clark 825 Squadron

1982/83 Wessex MK3 of HMS Antrim Flight - Lieutenant Commander I Stanley DSO, Lt C J Parry, Sub Lt S Cooper, PO Aircrewman D B Fitzgerald

1983/84 PO Aircrewman John Stephen Coleman

1984/85 Joint Award to 826 N.A.S (Sea King) and HMS Endurance (WASP)

1985/86 Lieutenant D Marr, POACMN M C Palmer, POACMN L Slater

1986/87  WO1 I D Johnstone AAC & Sgt D I Lewis REME

1987/88  Jeff Todd Esq

1988/89  Flight Sergeant Vaughan Dodsworth AFM RAF

1989/90  PO Aircrewman S W Wright, PO Aircrewman D S Wallace

1990/91  Flight Lieutenant D Kerr-Sheppard RAF, Flight Lieutenant D G Gow RAF, MAEOP M R Cornes, MALM W Payne

1992  Not Awarded

1992/93  772 Naval Air Squadron Helicopter - Lieutenant M I P Langley, POACM A Rogers, LACMN B Buggins

1993/94  Flight Sergeant Chris J Wood

1994/95  The Crew of Rescue 169: Flight Lieutenant A Cooper, Flight Lieutenant M Dennis, Flight Lieutenant G Holmes, Flight Sergeant P Trethewey

1995/96  Rescue 25, 78 Squadron, Falkland Islands: Flight Lieutenant M Dennis, Flight Lieutenant T Gear, Flight Sergeant Larke, Sergeant S Labouchardiere

1996/97  Rescue 193 from RNAS CULDROSE - Lieutenant B J Nicholas, Lieutenant J M Collicutt, Lieutenant G P Norris, POACM P J Warrington, LACM R W McKee

1997/98  Posthumously for William (Bill) Deacon

ALSO:  A special award to: Crews 03, 06 and 10 of Sea Flight 810 Squadron, Royal Naval Air Station, Culdrose

1998/99  The Crew of the Bell 412 Helicopter VH-CFT of Careflight

1999/2000  The helicopter pilots and crew of the South African Air Force

2000/01 Crew of HMS Montrose

             Flight Sergeant Trevor Thompson AFC

2001/02  Crew of the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter - Peter Yates, Dr Michael Novy, Tim Thistleton, Matthew Scott, Paul Featherstone

2002/03  'Rescue 137' D Flight No 202 Squadron, RAF Lossiemouth

2003/04 Rescue 193 RN

2004/05  Rescue 193 (Boscastle)

2005/06  Rescue 193 of 771 Naval Air Squadron

2006/07  Crew of 'Rescue 901' 442 Squadron CAF

              Hong Kong Government Flying Service

2007/08  HMS GANNET SAR FLIGHT 'Rescue 177'

             'BLACKOUT 26' 7 Sqn RAF

2008/09   Crew of "Rescue 193" of 771 Naval Air Squadron

2009/10   Crew of R902, 442 Sqn Canadian Air Force

2010/11   "HMS Chatham" Lynx - 226 Flt, 815 NAS

2011/12  Crew of Rescue 193 Naval Air Squadron: Lieutenant Commander Mike Luscombe RN, Captain Martin Roskilly RM, Lieutenant Jason "Tom" Sawyer RN, Sergeant Anthony Russell RM

2012/13 Rescue 912, 103 SAR Sqn RCAF: Captain Aaron Noble, Captain Jon Groten, Master Warrant Officer Jeff Warden, Sergeant Brad Hiscock, Master Corporal Mark Vokey

2013/14 Rescue 193 771 Naval Air Squadron: Lieutenant Commander Richard Calhaem RN, Lieutenant Commander Paul Robertson RN, Kapitanleutnant Steffen Volkwein and  POACMN Russell Adams

2014/15 Crew OF ‘RESCUE 177’, HMS GANNET SAR FLIGHT -  Lieutenant Commander Charles Fuller RN, Lieutenant Meirion Hammond RN, Lieutenant Angela Lewis RN and Petty Officer Aircrewman Michael Henson

2016  Crew of United States Coast Guard Rescue 6033 - Lieutenant John Hess USCG, Lieutenant Matthew Vanderslice USCG,  AMT2 Derrick Suba USCG, AST3 Evan Staph USCG

         Crew of HMS Gannet SAR Flight  R 177 - Lieutenant Commander Martin Lanni AFC RN, Lieutenant Richard Lightfoot RN, Lieutenant James Bullock RN, Petty Officer Aircrewman Alan Speed

2017  Crew of HM Coastguard Rescue 951 Inverness  Captain Simon Tye (Commander), Captain James Livitt (Co-pilot), Mark Lean (Winch Operator Paramedic) and Scott Sharman (Winchman Paramedic)

         Crew of HM Coastguard Rescue 912 Humberside Captain Peter Mackenzie-Brown (Commander), Senior First Officer Rob Backus (Co-pilot), Winch Operator Paul Bramley and Winchman/Medic Kate Willoughby

2018 The Hong Kong Government Flying Service