In an unusual turn of events, the Royal Navy’s duty search and rescue helicopter was called to assist in four separate incidents in the Lake District on Saturday (23 Feb). All four calls were to assist with injured climbers on Helvellyn, Swirral Edge, Scafell Pike and St Sunday Crag.
During the course of the afternoon, the search and rescue helicopter from HMS Gannet near Prestwick in Ayrshire worked alongside Helimed 58, which is based out of Langwathby or Durham Tees Valley Airport, four mountain rescue teams – Keswick, Patterdale, Wasdale and RAF Leeming – and Cumbria Police.
The crew also had a doctor from the Emergency Medical Retrieval Team (EMRT) in Glasgow on board for routine training.
Tasked from training at 1305, the Royal Navy team routed from just outside Kilmarnock to Helvellyn where a father and son had fallen on Browncove Crag. Keswick Mountain Rescue team had also been called out and Helimed 58 was also on scene.
Due to the location of the casualties, it was necessary to winch the helicopter’s aircrewman and paramedic Petty Officer Taff Ashman onto the hillside, along with Dr McMaison from the EMRT, with a stretcher to package first casualty.
They then retrieved a second stretcher from the air ambulance, which does not have a winching capability, and returned with the helimed’s paramedic to package the second casualty.
The two were then taken one each by the Sea King and Helimed 58 to Carlisle Hospital. The Sea King then refuelled at Carlisle Airport.
In the meantime, the HMS Gannet crew had been tasked to a second job – this time at Swirral Edge to a fallen walker.
Arriving on scene they found that Patterdale MRT was attending and that Helimed 58 was standing by to assist and were immediately retasked to job three of the day – a call to another injured walker, this time on Lord’s Rake, Scafell Pike.
The helicopter routed to Wasdale to collect MRT and moved the team members close to where the female casualty had fallen.
Gannet’s winchman Taff and Dr McMaison also assisted with packaging the casualty on a stretcher and the helicopter then routed to Carlisle Hospital for its second visit of the day. And, by that stage, running low on fuel again, another splash and dash at Carlisle Airport was required.
Once again, they hadn’t even completed the third job when a fourth tasking came in – for another fallen walker, this time at St Sunday Crag, Patterdale.
Arriving on scene it was clear that they would have to winch Taff down to get the casualty ready for a winch recovery to the aircraft. Patterdale and RAF Leeming Mountain Rescue Teams reached the casualty at around the same time.
The casualty was then winched into the Sea King and transferred to Whitehaven Hospital.
The HMS Gannet team and Dr McMaison finally arrived back at the Ayrshire base at 1910, after more than six hours of back-to-back jobs. Throughout the afternoon, the team had to contend with freezing conditions and snow showers in all the locations.
“It was quite an unusually busy afternoon for us,” said Lieutenant Phil Gamble, the crew’s observer [navigator].
“The winter conditions bring many out into the hills to enjoy the scenery, but sadly sometimes accidents can happen.
“Although none of these jobs was particularly arduous in isolation, cumulatively they added up to quite a long period of time, which requires a fair amount of endurance on the crew’s part.
“But it was good to be able to help all those who needed us and to work alongside all our colleagues in the other emergency services.”
It was also a very busy final day’s flying in the Royal Navy for senior pilot Lieutenant Commander Geoff Richardson who is leaving the Senior Service this year having completed more than 5000 hours in the air during his career.
The full HMS Gannet crew was pilots Lieutenant Commander Geoff Richardson and Lieutenant Nick Walker, observer [navigator] Lieutenant Phil Gamble and Petty Officer Taff Ashman, winchman and paramedic.
Naval Today Staff, February 25, 2013; Image: Royal Navy