Top civilian award for rescuing crew of stricken yacht
A search and rescue helicopter winchman who lifted two yachtsmen from their liferaft in a Force Nine gale has been awarded the George Medal for gallantry.
Royal Marine sergeant Tony Russell was engulfed by a 40 foot freak wave as he was lowered from his Sea King aircraft at night to the stricken crew.
At one point he was forced to dive beneath the pitching raft which had capsized and he became entangled in its lines.
The married father-of-two, aged 42, wondered if he was about to die as he fought to cut himself free and complete the rescue.
Sgt Russell from Bath said: “I thought ,’Is this it? Is this my time?’ For a second, I considered hitting the release on my harness but knew if I did that I would not get back aboard the helicopter. Instead I managed to cut myself free with a J-knife and get inside the raft.”
He used a strop to lift the Dutch crew, a professional delivery skipper aged 54 and his mate, aged 41, to the aircraft 100 feet above, one at a time.
The 36-foot yacht Andriette was being delivered to Sweden from the Azores when it was believed to have hit a shipping container 75 miles south west of the Scilly Isles in July 2011.
Without power or steering she lay beam-to in a ‘sea-state 7′ with waves averaging 20-30 feet in height and rolling her to 60 degrees.
Sgt Russell and the seaerch and rescue Sea King crew from 771 Naval Air Squadron received a Mayday at their base at Culdrose in Cornwall and with conditions too severe to lift the men from the yacht asked them to take to the liferaft.
Both sailors were shocked at their ordeal but otherwise unhurt.
Sgt Russell said: “The two men were anxious that they had put us to so much trouble but it was not their fault. We were happy to have completed the rescue.”
Sgt Russell’s award was one of 118 Operational Honours announced at a ceremony at Sandhurst on March 21, including gallantry medals for service in Afghanistan.