Pilot tells of dramatic rescue

A RESCUE pilot told last night how his crew plucked to safety a man who was 15-minutes from death after he fell overboard from a cross-channel ferry.The victim was a passenger on the P&O ferry Pride of Dover, which was travelling to France, when he fell overboard half-way across the English Channel.

By Danielle Nuttall

A RESCUE pilot told last night how his crew plucked to safety a man who was 15-minutes from death after he fell overboard from a cross-channel ferry.

The victim was a passenger on the P&O ferry Pride of Dover, which was travelling to France, when he fell overboard half-way across the English Channel.

A RAF helicopter crew from Wattisham Airfield was scrambled into action, as well as coastguards from Britain and France, cargo vessels and nearby ferries.


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The man, believed to be in his 30s and who had a life ring with him as he fell into the sea, was rescued by the crew of passing SeaFrance ferry, Rodin, who launched a lifeboat.

But it was a race against time to get the victim, who was suffering from hypothermia, to medical experts.

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Helicopter crewman Sgt Lee Clark winched down to the ferry to collect the casualty. He was treated onboard the aircraft by a doctor from Colchester General Hospital while being airlifted to the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother hospital, in Margate, where he is now in a stable condition.

Captain Olly Tadbury, who led the helicopter rescue, said doctors confirmed the victim was just 15 minutes from death before he was rescued.

“It's always tricky with these because the water is cold and people do not have long in the water,” he said.

“He was very, very cold. He was still hypothermic in hospital. It took six minutes to get us airborne after the call, which is very quick. We needed to respond urgently.”

The pilot said the crew had been alerted by their headquarters in RAF Kinross, Scotland, to the incident, which happened shortly after 3pm on Saturday.

“We were told all ferries, cargo vessel and the Dover lifeboat were on their way. Shortly before we got there we heard the chap had been picked up by a French ferry. They had him onboard and were warming him up,” he said.

“We arrived at the scene at about 4pm. We winched down our winch man, Sgt Lee Clark. He is trained to look after people in all sorts of situations including hypothermia.

“We then winched the casualty from the top of the ferry and were able to continue warming him up.

“A doctor onboard from Colchester General Hospital was able to assist once the casualty was back in the aircraft.”

Captain Tadbury said he was extremely pleased with the rescue operation.

“It was a multinational exercise. We have an American exchange pilot with us, we had the British coastguard, French coastguard, British and French ferries, and it still worked really well. Everyone was able to communicate remarkably well and the job was done very efficiently,” he said.

The QEQM hospital in Margate said the man was in a stable condition and able to speak to police.

A Kent Police spokesman later said: “He is now safe and well and has got no injuries. He is undergoing psychiatric assessment and appears to have jumped because he heard voices inside his head.”

A spokeswoman for SeaFrance said: “The Rodin was on her 15.30 sailing from Calais when the crew had a report that somebody had fallen overboard from another vessel. The Rodin and a freighter stopped to assist.

“They had to launch their fast rescue craft and picked up the guy and took him to the Rodin before he was taken by helicopter to Margate.”

danielle.nuttall@eadt.co.uk

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