DANGLING above stormy seas in 35mph winds, Royal Navy hero Mike Henson plucked 13 sinking mariners to safety in a daring rescue mission.
The brave sailor made an astonishing 27 trips up and down the wire of HMS St Albans’ helicopter to save the crew of a tanker in the Arabian Sea.
The Portsmouth-based warship had raced 100 miles to answer a desperate mayday call from merchant vessel MV Pavit off the coast of Oman.
The 2,000-tonne tanker had been rolling helplessly in a heavy monsoon storm after its engines broke down.
Its 13-strong crew from India were in a perilous situation as the ship took on thousands of gallons of water and three of the men had taken ill.
But just before the vessel sank to the bottom of the sea bed, Petty Officer Mike Henson arrived to winch the men to safety before lowering them down to medics on another tanker, MV Jag Pushpa, 10 miles away.
He told The News: ‘It was a bit hairy at first. The first couple of times I went down I took a few knocks and it was a slippery deck with water coming over. But the person winching me down got their eye in and the pilot got in a good position so it got easier as it went on.’
The modest 29-year-old added: ‘Most airmen would do exactly the same thing but I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.’
The drama unfolded on Thursday when MV Pavit sent out a distress signal 122 miles off the coast of Oman. Falmouth coastguards passed on the SOS and called on Omani Coastguard and merchant vessels to respond.
But none were able to help due to the extremely rough weather.
With time running out, St Albans was scrambled to go to the rescue and launched her Merlin helicopter.
One of the helicopter’s two pilots, Flight Lieutenant Iain Jardine, said: ‘The conditions were quite bad. There were high seas and strong winds.
‘There was a big swell and the tanker was rolling around a lot but we were able to line up with the ship and take up a hovering position.
‘It was quite hard work for the aircrew, especially the winchman because he was having to winch up 13 people from the ship and down again onto their sister ship MV Jag Pushpa.
‘It was challenging work but it was fun. It was rewarding to be able to put all of your training into practice.’
The sailors were recovering yesterday after medical treatment.
Coastguardsman Ian Guy, who helped orchestrate the rescue from Falmouth Coastguard station, said: ‘This was a desperate situation for the crewmen on board, who had been without engines for three days in severe weather conditions, and reported that several crew members had fallen seriously ill. Falmouth Coastguard has spent two days working with the Middle Eastern authorities to try and send aid to the stranded vessel, and are pleased that working with the Royal Navy, this has been achieved.’
Captain praises rescue crew who ‘pushed it to the limit’
THE captain of HMS St Albans praised his crew following a day of high drama on the high seas.
After the Portsmouth-based warship rescued 13 sailors from a stricken tanker in the Arabian Sea, Commander Tom Sharpe said: ‘I’m immensely proud of my ship’s company because had it been a routine operation we would have looked very hard at whether or not to have done it because of the conditions.
‘But it is inevitable that one pushes these things to the limit when there are lives at risk.
‘ It was a long mission in very difficult flying conditions, flying from ship to ship with nowhere really for them to touch down. It was very difficult and the winching to and from deck to deck on 27 occasions is at the limit of what can be done. I’m incredibly proud of the crew and it’s indicative of how the Royal Navy can respond to so many different tasks.’
St Albans left Portsmouth in June on a six-month patrol to combat smuggling and piracy in the Middle East.