Reliability, Performance, Compliance


Orange flare aids helicopter pilot in coastal rescue


The importance of orange smoke flares in assisting helicopter pilots in rescue operations has been illustrated in a Dorset coastal emergency.

The Swanage lifeboat team was called to help after a lone walker had slipped and broke her arm on rocks near Chapman’s Pool, a Dorset beauty spot and observed COVID regulations.

Both Swanage lifeboats – all-weather and inshore D-class - were launched in a sea swell and strong Force 6 easterly breeze.

Chapman’s Pool, which is 14 miles from the lifeboat station, is at the very limit of the D class’s range. To get there, the crew had to pass over a submerged rock ledge at Peveril Point.

Team member Darren Tomes says, “We knew it would be pretty rough. The waves are always a lot bigger on the ledge. Conditions were worse because the wind was blowing in the opposite direction to the tide.”

Darren wore a full lifeboat protective kit, including drysuit, helmet with visor, and latex gloves due to COVID-19 restrictions and had to wade and clamber over rocks to reach the casualty.

“She’d been walking near rock pools, keeping her distance from other walkers, when she slipped. Without us, I don’t know how she’d have got back to the cove.

“There were four other people with her – the Coastguard rescue team and two paramedics, and a rescue helicopter was on its way. We had to think how to get her to the waiting ambulance. Putting her in the D class would have been the easiest way to get her off. But she had broken her arm and was in a lot of pain, so we couldn’t move her.”

Bright orange smoke flare

The rescue helicopter manoeuvred into position as Darren let off his bright orange smoke flare to guide the pilot in.

“I got the casualty ready for lifting. Luckily she didn’t have a massive injury so didn’t need stabilising before we moved her. I just made sure I didn’t get too close, maintaining more of a distance than I would normally.”

With the casualty safely onboard the helicopter, Darren rejoined his crewmates before setting off back to the lifeboat station. “Conditions were still quite rough. The Shannon was there to escort us back. We’d have had difficulty managing in the swell on our own.”

Dave Turnball, Coxswain/Mechanic at Swanage Lifeboat Station, says, “Covid-19 has changed the way we deal with casualties. We have to assume anyone is infectious. We’ll do whatever needs to be done to save someone, but we also ask ourselves questions like: Do we need to give them casualty care? Do we need to transport them? And how do we keep our distance?”

The image of Darren Tomes is by RNLI/Nigel Millard.

Oct 08, 2020