Helicopter crew in dramatic cliff rescue

A HELICOPTER crew from a Suffolk airbase has played a vital part in a dramatic cliff face rescue.

Elliot Furniss

A HELICOPTER crew from a Suffolk airbase has played a vital part in a dramatic cliff face rescue.

The RAF Sea King, stationed at Wattisham Airfield, was conducting a training exercise at the Gunfleet Sands wind farm about seven miles off the Essex coast when it received a call for assistance from the Dover Coastguard.

The call came in to the four-strong crew at about 3.30pm on Monday afternoon after a paraglider crash-landed halfway down a treacherous 350ft cliff face at Capel in Kent - about halfway between Folkestone and Dover.

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The glider had become trapped in an area of trees not far from the famous Battle of Britain memorial and there were no apparent routes to safety.

He was first spotted by volunteers from National Coastwatch who raised the alarm, which triggered the response from the RAF crew.

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B Flight 22 Squadron Sea King pilot, captain and flight commander, Squadron Leader Richard Strookman, said the crew's excellent training meant it was a fairly routine winching exercise.

He said: “We were diverted at about 3.30pm and were on task for 40 minutes. About 20 minutes to get on scene and by that stage we knew that the guy was uninjured, but basically stuck.

“We located the canopy of his paraglider easily and he was in quite thick undergrowth, but with the help of the coastguard we managed to locate him.

“Then it was a straightforward winching exercise and got him aboard the aircraft and landed him, very appropriately, at the Battle of Britain memorial.

“He seemed to be in good spirits and very grateful. Maybe a little embarrassed, but we all make mistakes.”

Squadron Leader Strookman said it was not uncommon to be called to a rescue while conducting a training exercise.

He said: “We let the Coastguard know that we are airborne and available. Often we are training and we get a job come in and everything stops and we react instantly. (In this case) we were on our way within seconds of the call.

“It's totally down to training of the guys in front and the rear crew and it's a massive team effort.”

Dover Coastguard at Langdon Cliffs co-ordinated the rescue, which also involved launches from Folkestone and Dover, paramedics and firefighters.

A coastguard spokesman said the rescued man was “very lucky” to be alive and unharmed after running into trouble at a perilous spot.

The spokesman said: “We have had people seriously injured paragliding from those cliffs. He could even have been killed.

“He had been rescued 40 minutes after he had been seen - but if he had not been discovered in time he could have been trapped well into the next day.”

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