SAR: The Good - The Bad - The Brave - and Everything In Between!

on . Posted in LIFELINE February 2017 - English

Rebecca Jeffries, Editor of LIFE LINE, writes:

Much like the IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea, here at IMRF HQ we are also beginning our search for a H.E.R.O. The IMRF Honouring Excellence in Rescue Operations awards 2017 are now accepting nominations with a closing date of 28th July 2017 so there is plenty of time to submit a nomination. More details will follow later in the year. See http://www.imrfhero.org/.

As Editor of LIFE LINE, compiling the stories for last year’s H.E.R.O awards was inspiring, heart-warming and at times gut wrenching. Search and rescue is an environment that nurtures heroism and that is why we want to acknowledge the heroes within our SAR family.

Throughout the years, LIFE LINE has been a place where IMRF members can come and tell their story. Anyone involved in maritime SAR will hold some stories close to their heart and I am no different. SAR is not just about the brave though, it is about dedication, hope and sometimes plain old luck.

As a crew member with RNLI Stonehaven one particular mission that has stuck with me was a search for 2 missing fishermen off the coast of North East Scotland. It began as an overdue vessel report and we began our search for the small creel boat with high hopes that we would find them safe and well, it was foggy so we had no reason to believe they were anything but lost. The minutes spent searching turned into hours, the hours quickly turned into days. We searched alongside our sister stations and slowly hope started to drain, but still we searched with a combined total search area of over 1800 NM was covered.

The termination of that search broke each and every one of our hearts, we were a new station and we hadn’t been through this before, we wanted to save them, we wanted to pluck them from the deep blue and take them home and it hurt us all.

At the time I also worked at MRCC Aberdeen as a Watch Officer in the operations room. I turned up at work the next day for handover to be greeted with "you will never guess what..we found them!"

My heart flipped, and immediately sank a little. They had gone missing over 2 days ago. The chance of the next sentence being they are alive was low to say the least..I waited for the inevitable sentence to spill out...

"A fishing vessel found them 50NM East of Arbroath, they are alive!"

For days lifeboats from 3 stations, coastguards, police, a trio of helicopters as well as commercial vessels had searched and searched, the MRCC had calculated search areas, refined them, and calculated again. We had all done the very best we could but the reality was that we were never going to find them, we could not account for the fact that, whilst lost in fog just ¼ of a mile from land, they had started their engine and headed towards the coast in what they thought was a Westerly direction. This Westerly was Easterly and they were heading out to sea. When they decided to switch off the engine they then started to drift, miles from what the coastguard had as their last known position.

No amount of search pattern calculation can account for that element of human error. Even a crystal ball would have struggled to get a clear picture of where they were.

And yet they were rescued, they were safe and they were on their way home to their families. How? Pure luck, nothing more, nothing less, the trawler that found them was on a set course, and they just happened to go right by the drifting boat.

Maritime Search and Rescue is made up of stories like this, it is a patchwork of experience, each story has value and there is always a lesson to be learnt and at the heart of the IMRF is the desire to share these stories with each other, and the world. We want to share your stories, stories that are endearing, stories that are tragic, stories that are funny and stories that just go to show what can happen when you least expect it.

SAR may not always be about the brave, but it is always about hope. The two fishermen involved came to meet my crew and they said that they knew we were looking for them and that, along with two chocolate biscuits and a bottle of water, gave them the strength to survive.

My crew did not pluck them from the water, the helicopters did see them from afar, the coordination centre did not predict where they would be and yet, with nothing but hope, they survived to tell their story...and what a story it is.

If you have a maritime SAR story that you want to share then email me at news@imrf.org.uk

Photo: The Crew of RNLI Stonehaven meet the Gourdon fishermen after their days lost at sea. Credit@RNLI Stonehaven.

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