ETERNALLY grateful – that is the sentiment of a crew rescued by a daring Royal Navy sailor who has now been hailed a hero.
Leading Seaman Sally Hughes, of Portsmouth, risked her own life to save 14 people stranded on the Clyde Challenger yacht in the Atlantic.
She was part of the rescue effort by the Senior Service, which scrambled Type 45 destroyer HMS Dragon to save the battered boat in February.
Her efforts in the dramatic rescue have now earned her a Queen’s Gallantry Medal for ‘exceptional bravery’.
Glenn Porter, principal skipper of Clyde Challenger, said: ‘The crew are eternally grateful for her courage.’
Portsmouth-based HMS Dragon was diverted 500 miles south west of Land’s End to help the yacht, which had previously competed in round-the-world races.
The stricken vessel had been de-masted by a rogue 18ft wave and damaged further in a failed rescue bid by a nearby merchant vessel.
With the yacht taking on water and drifting further out into the worsening Atlantic storm, it was down to 28-year-old LS Hughes to rescue the sailors, who had been stranded for two days.
She was tasked with driving one of 24ft rigid inflatable boats. Battling powerful surges and 50mph winds, LS Hughes managed to navigate to the Challenger.
Despite the danger to herself and her crewmate, LS Hughes persisted with the rescue and made 13 approaches over a gruelling two-hour period to lift the crew off the yacht and ferry them back to the safety on Dragon.
During one cycle, the sea boat was swung into the side of Dragon by the high seas and the force of the impact punctured the boat, injuring LS Hughes’ arm. Despite the injury, she carried on, switching to the reserve sea boat rather than letting a fellow shipmate take her place.
LS Hughes, who joined the Royal Navy in 2009, said: ‘I am humbled to have been recognised for my actions during the rescue.
‘I was doing my job in challenging conditions and was but part of a team effort in rescuing the sailors; an action I would hope anyone would do if they were ever to be in a similar situation.
‘There was no place for fear during this rescue. I had been trained to drive the sea boat and whilst the conditions I experienced were significantly more challenging than I had dealt with before I applied my knowledge to achieve the end result.’
Captain Craig Wood, Dragon’s commanding officer, said the sailors of Challenger owed their lives to LS Hughes.
He said: ‘Despite suffering an injury to herself and in the face of the most challenging of conditions she ensured that all sailors were recovered to HMS Dragon.
‘Today 14 sailors owe their lives to the courage and leadership of LS Hughes.’