Chopper crew praised over crash rescue

A HELICOPTER crew's swift rescue of a pilot whose light aircraft plunged into the North Sea helped save his life, an accident investigation report has said.

A HELICOPTER crew's swift rescue of a pilot whose light aircraft plunged into the North Sea helped save his life, an accident investigation report has said.

The German pilot's Cessna aircraft came down about 15 miles from Orfordness last September after it ran out of fuel on its way from Germany to Clacton-on-Sea.

Officers from Wattisham Airfield were scrambled into action after receiving a mayday call from the Aeronautical Rescue Co-operation Centre at RAF Kinloss in north-east Scotland.

Within 19 minutes, the crew had arrived at the scene and winched the pilot, who had suffered a broken back, into the helicopter to be transported to Ipswich Hospital.


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A report compiled by the Air Accidents Investigation Bureau (AAIB) said: “The SAR (Search and Rescue) helicopter from Wattisham, near Ipswich, was scrambled at 12.26pm and by 12.45pm had winched the pilot onboard.

“Although the pilot's survival time, at a water temperature of 17C, was theoretically predicted to have been about one hour, his useful conscious time would have been significantly less.

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“It was fortunate that the helicopter and the rescue boat from the nearby ship were on scene so quickly as, after only 18 minutes in the water, he was diagnosed as already suffering from the effects of the cold.”

When the crew had arrived at the scene, the pilot was clearly visible in the water and was swimming towards a rescue boat from a nearby Russian tanker.

Two commercial aircraft, one from British Midland and another from British Airways, were also circling overhead to help rescuers pinpoint the stricken man.

Flight Lieutenant Steve Murkin, who captained the operation onboard the SAR helicopter, said: “It was a good team effort. The British Airways aircraft acknowledged his May Day and tracked him down to the water, the Russian ship saw where he ditched and launched a small rescue craft which broke down within yards of him, just as we arrived on scene.

“Our job was easy. We did the glory bit.”

The AAIB's report said the accident occurred as a result of the aircraft running out of fuel about 160 nautical miles short of its destination.

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