Behind the News: Award for Irish helicopter rescue crew

An Irish Coast Guard helicopter crew scooped an international award for a mountain rescue in 2013

Four crew attached to Rescue 118, based in Sligo, are due to receive the Fredrick L Feinberg award from the American Helicopter Society. The rescue involved hovering a half-rotor diameter’s distance from a cliff face. Video: Irish Coastguard

 

‘It’s great to receive recognition for a job well done,” Paraic Slattery says about receiving the Frederick L Feinberg award from the American Helicopter Society in Canada this week.

Slattery was a pilot on an Irish Coast Guard mission to rescue an injured climber in the Bluestack Mountains in May last year.

The rescue mission was recognised as exceptionally brave and technically remarkable. The night of the rescue had low cloud, rain and wind blowing at up to 32 knots, or 60km/h. The Sikorsky S-61N had to hover very close to the cliff face.

“It was a difficult manoeuvre to keep the helicopter hovering close to the edge of the hillside. It was an inky-black night, with no celestial light and gusty conditions,” says Slattery. The crew used floodlights, landing lights and torchlight to stay hovering safely.

Once the climber was located at the base of a sheer cliff, with a further drop of more than 350m below her, the winch operator lowered the winch man – both are paramedics – followed by a stretcher. The winch man then had to prepare the casualty to be lifted into the helicopter.

Once the climber was aboard the crew took her to Sligo Airport, to be taken on to hospital by ambulance.

The six-person crew, which beside Slattery also included pilot Paul Forbes, winch operator John McCarthy, winch man Conal McCarron, and engineers Francis Perris and Declan McGrath, were all in Montreal for the ceremony.

“We are humbled to be in the company of other award recipients, such as the US marine corps, for the Haitian relief operation, and the Indian disaster relief operations, which provided relief to over 20,000 people during flooding and landslides in 2013,” says Slattery.

The search-and-rescue helicopter crew, who work on contract for the Irish Coast Guard, can be called out at any time. “Our primary role is maritime search and rescue, but we also cover the mountains and inland lakes. And we work as an air ambulance for the HSE,” says Slattery.

“You never know where you will be next. One minute you are helping a boat in distress, and the next place you find yourself is on the top of a mountain. It’s exhilarating and challenging work.”

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