Royal Navy commander tells of dramatic rescue in storm

HMS St Albans took part in a dramatic sea rescue
HMS St Albans took part in a dramatic sea rescue
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THE commander in charge of the warship that helped rescue a stricken sailor says she is proud of her company.

Conditions during the drama, which began with a May Day distress call on Monday afternoon, were intense, with heavy rain, wind, little light and an incoming electrical storm.

HMS ST ALBANS     (RS)    MRW   1/8/2014 ''The Redication Ceremony of HMS St Albans in Portsmouth Naval Base ''HMS St Albans Commanding Officer Commander Catherine Jordan ''Picture: Malcolm Wells (142228-5070) PPP-140108-131026003

HMS ST ALBANS (RS) MRW 1/8/2014 ''The Redication Ceremony of HMS St Albans in Portsmouth Naval Base ''HMS St Albans Commanding Officer Commander Catherine Jordan ''Picture: Malcolm Wells (142228-5070) PPP-140108-131026003

The sailor, 52-year-old Mick Royton, sent out a faint distress call which was picked up by a merchant vessel (the stricken yacht is pictured). His location was given as 30 miles off the Isle of Wight.

The huge operation to find him involved the Coastguard, the RNLI, a French helicopter and the passing Portsmouth-based HMS St Albans, covering 250 nautical square miles.

At 1am on Tuesday the search was put on hold as conditions worsened.

But, at 3.15am, as the Type 23 Frigate headed off towards Plymouth on a training exercise, the watch spotted the wreck 18 miles south of Portland.

Commander Catherine Jordan (pictured) said: ‘It was unclear at first but it was unlit, very small and rolling around a lot.

‘At this point the lightning storm was much closer, about five miles away.

‘A second thundery storm was going through close to Portland.

‘We were now about 30 miles from the original distress message site.

‘As we managed to close in, we used our night-vision goggles and thermal imaging cameras.

‘We realised it was definitely a wreck and possibly the trimaran.

‘We managed to get close enough to shout and use our loud hailers and a person appeared out of the cabin.

‘We managed to establish communication with them.

‘The yacht was rolling over on to its port side and it was at risk of a big wave capsizing it. It must have been very uncomfortable on board.

‘He could hear us but we could not hear him. So we asked him questions and got him to wave one arm or two arms to answer us. He was hanging on to the boat. The trimaran has one main hull and two mini hulls either side and they were all broken away.

‘There was netting and no mast. He had a small wind machine which gave a little bit of light. But he had no control over the yacht.

‘He was completely at the mercy of the weather.’

Conditions were so bad it was too dangerous to send the ship’s small inflatable rescue boat down to the sea because of the risk of it being ripped by the debris.

The Coastguard and RNLI were alerted and a lifeboat was sent from Weymouth which took the sailor to waiting paramedics, then on to hospital.

Cmdr Jordan added: ‘If we had got close enough for the ship to rescue him it may have put him in more danger.

‘We are professional mariners so we know that the sea and the weather must be respected and people have to be very careful.

‘Things happen and we all have a responsibilty for safety of life at sea.

‘When we’re at sea we’re always maintaining a lookout and conducting maritime security patrol.

‘It is a great relief for everybody – ourselves, the Coastguard and the RNLI.

‘We’re happy that it was a successful outcome. It was great for the team to get involved. They did the ship proud.’

Coastguard spokesman Andrew Jenkins said: ‘The man has no injuries but having spent the best part of 12 hours on a dismasted vessel in very bad conditions, with wind and rain, he was very, very cold.’

He added: ‘He was taken on to the lifeboat because the helicopter was unable to winch him off because of the conditions.

‘During the peak of the search we had four helicopters and there was an electrical storm which interfered with the search. The conditions were less than optimal.’

Following the rescue HMS St Albans continued her patrol to Plymouth.

Sailor’s relief

RESCUED sailor Mick Royton said it was a ‘huge relief’ to be saved.

He was living on the vessel and was travelling from France to Poole.

‘I thought my time was up. I was glad to get out of the storm and be safe,’ he said.

Mr Royton, an experienced sailor, was suffering from the early stages of hypothermia and was taken to hospital in Dorchester after being brought ashore.