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.

2023 awarded to: Crew of Rescue 924 - Captain Debdash Bhattacharya, Co-Pilot Mark Coupland, Winch Operator Jason Bibby and Winch/Paramedic Carlton Real

Rescue 9242

During the night of 31 October 2022, the crew of Rescue 924 (R924) rescued eight yachtsmen from the 12-metre yacht ‘Gannet’ to the west of the Lizard Peninsular in challenging storm Force 10 conditions caused by Storm Claudio.  The crew of R924 were on scene for one hour and seven minutes and faced with conditions that were described by the Penlee Lifeboat crew as ‘horrendous weather conditions’ with ‘a screaming wind gusting F10, driving heavy rain, rough seas and extremely poor visibility’.

Demonstrating exemplary initiative, crew co-operation, tenacity and skill, the crew of R924 quickly and correctly identified that they were the best placed asset to respond to the intensifying incident and conduct the rescue of all crew members from the yacht.

705Crew Of Rescue 924 PPHRA 2023At 2107 hours the crew of R924 were scrambled to conduct an urgent medical transfer of a patient from the Isles of Scilly to the Royal Cornwall Hospital, Treliske in Truro. As the crew started the helicopter, the wind direction veered by 100 degrees and increased to over 35 knots with gusts of 47 knots, and, on taking off from Newquay Airport, the wind temporarily registered 60 knots.  Once settled in transit, it became apparent to the crew that Falmouth Coastguard and the RNLI’s Penlee Lifeboat from Newlyn were dealing with a serious situation involving the 12-metre French yacht ‘Gannet’ off the south coast.  Continuing to monitor the situation during their transit to the Isles of Scilly, the crew were alerted to the worsening situation by a discussion between the lifeboat and the yacht over abandoning the yacht as it was now taking on water.  The situation was exacerbated by the fact that two of the yachtsmen were in ‘a poor state’ and there were insufficient life jackets available for everyone onboard.

R924’s captain radioed the aircraft’s controlling agency, ‘UK Rescue’, to advise of the developing severity of the events unfolding during the tow of the yacht and explaining that any other rescue aircraft attending from adjacent bases would face a 50-knot headwind and therefore delay in arriving on scene.  Meanwhile, the WinchOp contacted Falmouth Coastguard to let them know that R924 was available for tasking and R924 was tasked at 2206 hours, arriving on scene 12 minutes later.

On scene, the Penlee Lifeboat and yacht were making 3 knots headway against heavy seas with wave heights between 5 and 7 metres and winds of 45 to 55 knots (52 mph – 63 mph).  Although under tow, the yacht was slewing by up to 60 degrees and pitching and rolling as it was alternately dragged up the face of the advancing waves and then surfed down the retreating side.

Once established in the hover, the crew’s responsibilities were divided into aircraft safety and external communications coordinated by the co-pilot, and flying by the captain of the aircraft under the direction and con from the WinchOp who would also conduct the winching to deliver the winchman/paramedic to the deck of the yacht to assess the medical condition of the eight yachtsmen and affect their recovery and rescue.

The yacht would have been difficult enough to winch to in benign conditions due to its standing and running rigging, but the prevailing conditions compounded the situation. Nevertheless, the winchman/paramedic was content to try to get onboard and it was decided that the use of a hi-line tended by the yacht’s crew was the only means of getting him to the deck.  Running in to drop off the hi-line, it became apparent that the captain of the aircraft would be unable to keep the yacht in view once in the winching position and his visual references would therefore be the pitching lifeboat ahead and the few distant lights onshore as viewed through Night Vision goggles.

Once the hi-line was successfully delivered to the vessel, the winchman/paramedic attached himself to the winch and was lowered to a suitable height above the wave crests.  Despite assessing his height correctly, he was almost immediately struck by a wave that was higher than the average.  The winch operator then began a continuous and accurate con to guide the captain of the aircraft to a position where the winchman could be assisted onboard the yacht. Instinctively increasing the rate of the con and flow of information to the captain as the aircraft approached the stern of the yacht, the vessel unexpectedly slewed and the winchman was suddenly faced with boarding it on the starboard side amid-ship.  Rapidly securing himself to the heaving deck, he swiftly released the winch wire from his harness and commenced dealing with the crew.

As the aircraft re-positioned onto the port side of the yacht, the 200 ft hi-line snagged on the deck, the weak link parted and the line was lost.  During the process of passing a second 200ft hi-line to the vessel, a combination of its random pitching, rolling, slewing, accelerating and decelerating caused the line to wrap around the standing rigging.  With only 2 shorter 150 ft hi-lines left in the aircraft, it was assessed that these would not have allowed a sufficient margin of error for the movement of the vessel.  Faced with the alternative of returning to base to pick up longer hi-lines, the crew decided that they would not leave the yacht but that they would join the last two remaining lines to form one of sufficient length.  In the meantime, the winchman assessed the crew and prioritised who should be lifted first. Encouraging and directing the crew members into action, some of whom were becoming unresponsive, he briefed them on tending the hi-line and winching techniques.  Once this was done, the hi-line was passed to the vessel and preparations made for the winching.  Under the precise directions of the winch operator to the captain of the aircraft they were able to get closer to matching the yacht’s motion allowing brief spells when they could safely winch and rescue the yachtsmen clear of the deck.

During the next 30 minutes, six of the eight yachtsmen were successfully winched to the aircraft in pairs.  Following a short discussion among the crew it was decided that the winchman and the remaining two yachtsmen would be brought up to the aircraft as a triple man lift, which is normally only used in extremis.  This decision was based on the judgment that the vessel’s motion would become even more unpredictable once the yacht’s helm was left unattended and it could broach to the point of capsizing.

As the WinchOp prepared for the final winch evolution, he noticed that four strands had broken on the winch wire and the hoist in use was therefore no longer serviceable.  This focused the crew’s minds on completing the final lift without delay and winching was switched to the outboard of the two hoists fitted to the aircraft.  As expected, once the helm was left unattended the yacht’s motion became even more random and the WinchOp sought to con the aircraft to intercept its path to affect the rescue.  Following a more protracted approach to the vessel, the winchman and the remaining two yachtsmen were winched onboard and R924 departed the scene for base. 

During the rescue, the entire crew of R924 performed exceptionally and selflessly under severely trying conditions and at great danger to themselves.  The combined actions and teamwork were pivotal to the successful outcome of the rescue.  The crew of R924 is accordingly awarded the Prince Philip Helicopter Rescue Award.

Rescue 9243

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  MALM David Edward Bullock GC (posthumously)

1981/82  Lt Cdr H S Clark 825 Sqn

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

1983/84  POACM John Stephen Coleman

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

1985/86  Lt 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  Flt Sgt Vaughan Dodsworth AFM RAF

1989/90  POACM S W Wright, POACM D S Wallace

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

1992   not awarded

1992/93  772 NAS Helicopter - Lt M I P Langley, POACM A Rogers, LACMN B Buggins

1993/94  Flt Sgt Chris J Wood

1994/95  The Crew of Rescue 169: Flt Lt  A Cooper, Flt Lt M Dennis, Flt Lt G Holmes, Flt Sgt P Trethewey

1995/96  Rescue 25 78 Sqn Falkland Islands: Flt Lt M Dennis, Flt Lt T Gear, Flt Sgt Larke, SgtS Labouchardiere

1996/97  Rescue 193 from RNAS CULDROSE - Lt B J Nicholas, Lt J M Collicutt, Lt 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 Sqn RNAS 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 Awarded twice:
      Crew of HMS Montrose
      Flt Sgt 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 Sqn RAF Lossiemouth

2003/04  Rescue 193 RN

2004/05  Rescue 193 (Boscastle)

2005/06  Rescue 193 of 771 NAS

2006/07  Awarded twice:
      The Crew of 'Rescue 901' 442 Sqn CAF
      Hong Kong Government Flying Service

2007/08  Awarded twice:
      HMS GANNET SAR FLIGHT 'Rescue 177'
      'BLACKOUT 26' 7 Sqn RAF

2008/09   Crew of "Rescue 193" of 771 NAS

2009/10   Crew of R902, 442 Sqn CAF

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

2011/12  Crew of Rescue 193 NAS: Lt Cdr Mike Luscombe RN, Capt Martin Roskilly RM, Lt Jason "Tom" Sawyer RN, Sgt Anthony Russell RM

2012/13  Rescue 912 103 SAR Sqn RCAF: Capt Aaron Noble, Capt Jon Groten, MWO Jeff Warden, Sgt Brad Hiscock, M/Cpl Mark Vokey

2013/14  Rescue 193 771 NAS: Lt Cdr Richard Calhaem RN, Lt Cdr Paul Robertson RN, Kapitanleutnant Steffen Volkwein and  POACMN Russell Adams

2014/15  Crew OF ‘RESCUE 177’, HMS GANNET SAR FLIGHT -  Lt Cdr Charles Fuller RN, Lt Meirion Hammond RN, Lt Angela Lewis RN and POACM Michael Henson

2016  Awarded twice:
      Crew of United States Coast Guard Rescue 6033 - Lt John Hess USCG, Lt Matthew Vanderslice USCG,  AMT2 Derrick Suba USCG, AST3 Evan Staph USCG
      Crew of HMS Gannet SAR Flight  R 177 - Lt Cdr Martin Lanni AFC RN, Lt Richard Lightfoot RN, Lt James Bullock RN, POACM Alan Speed

2017  Awarded twice:
      Crew of HM Coastguard Rescue 951 Inverness  Captain Simon Tye, Captain James Livitt, Mark Lean and Scott Sharman
      Crew of HM Coastguard Rescue 912 Humberside Captain Peter Mackenzie-Brown, SFO Rob Backus,  Winch Operator Paul Bramley and Winchman/Medic Kate Willoughby

2018  The Hong Kong Government Flying Service

2019  Caernarfon Rescue 936: Captain Kate Simmonds, Captain Dave Kenyon AFC, Winch Operator Richard Taylor QGM and Winchman Paramedic Alistair Drumond

2020  Crew of Royal Air Force of Oman Rescue 01 - Ll Cdr George Thompson RN, Mulazim 1 Tay Mahmood, Wakeel 2 Jaw Yaqoob, Raqeeb Jaw Ibrahim

2021  Crew of 'Schooner 20' and Crew of 'Mako 27'

2022  Crew of Rescue 151 - Captain Rob Green, Captain Simon Hammock, Duncan Tripp, Philip Caudle

2023  Crew of Rescue 924 - Captain Debdash Bhattcharya, Co-Pilot Mark Coupland, Winch Operator Jason Bibby and Winch/Paramedic Carlton Real