Edward & Maisie Lewis Award 1986/87
The EDWARD AND MAISIE LEWIS award to the crews of Sea Kings Search & Rescue 190 & 191 of B Flight 202 Squadron RAF Brawdy for the rescue of the crew of mv Kowloon Bridge on 22 November 1986.
On the evening of 22 November 1986, two Sea King SAR helicopters, call signs ‘Rescue 190’ and ‘Rescue 191’, deployed to Cork airport to standby for the possible evacuation of the crew of a fishing vessel which was in difficulty some 125 miles off the lrish coast. By 2300 it had become clear that the fishing vessel was no longer in danger and did not require helicopter assistance. However, at 2315 the Maritime Rescue Co-Ordination Centre at Shannon tasked both ‘Rescue 190’ and ‘191-‘ to go to the aid of the 168,000 ton bulk carrier Kowloon Bridge which had transmitted a mayday call, reporting she had lost steerage, was shipping water and was in danger of foundering 10 miles off Mizzen Head. The Captain was intending to abandon ship immediately, but was persuaded by Valencia Radio to stay on board and await the rescue helicopters.
The weather forecast for the Mizzen Head area included a warning of violent storm force 11 conditions, with frequent heavy showers or rain, hail or snow. After a difficult transit, ‘Rescue 190’ arrived alongside the Kowloon Bridge at 0015, closely followed by ‘Rescue 191.’. On scene, the wind was 50- 60 kts, gusting to 75 kts – conditions of extreme danger for the Sea Kings, which were not normally permitted to operate in wind speeds exceeding 45 kts. Moreover, the sea was very rough and the vessel was lying beam on to the wind and swell. Her bow was submerged and waves were breaking over the whole length of the deck, which was pitching and rolling violently in the heavy seas. The crew of the ship was sheltering just forward of the main superstructure and storm lines had been rigged from there to the number 8 hatch cover, which was to be used as the winching point. ‘Rescue 190’ moved over the winching area, placed the Winchman on the deck and recovered 14 seamen aboard the helicopter in pairs before moving away. ‘Rescue 191’ then edged in towards the vessel, but a combination of ship and aircraft movement in the appalling conditions resulted in the Winchman being swung into the side of the number 8 hatch cover. He sustained injuries later diagnosed as a broken bone in his left hand and bruising to his back. However, in spite of being in considerable discomfort, he ensured that the 14 remaining seamen were winched aboard the helicopter before being recovered himself. ‘Rescue 190’ and ‘191’ left the scene at 0105 and arrived at Cork at 0135 with all 28 crew members aboard and uninjured.
The actions of the crews of both helicopters in successfully rescuing the entire crew were of the highest professional standard, particularly in view of the fact that the operation was carried out in darkness and in extreme weather conditions. The skill, determination and courage shown by both crews was in the best traditions of the RAF and merits the highest praise.