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Overheated Wench ?


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Couldn't locate an online copy of this version of events....


Rescuer sent plunging into sea;

Searchers forced to cut loose crewman during helicopter rescue of fishing boat in distress off Newfoundland





A search-and-rescue technician was sent plunging into the frigid ocean on the weekend after a Cormorant helicopter crew attempting to rescue six fishermen from a life-raft was forced to cut the man's hoist cable.


Sgt. Derek Rogers, a crewman on the helicopter from Gander, Nfld., described the dramatic decision in the tense moments after a shrimp boat was swamped off Cape Bonavista on Sunday.


Rogers, hanging by a cable from the chopper, peered into the beleagured boat and expected to see four men in survival suits and two without. Instead, it was the other way around.


"Somehow, we had a reverse of the numbers," Rogers, 34, said Tuesday from the 103 Squadron's headquarters at 9 Wing Gander. "We'd been told there were two without and four with (suits)."


As a result, the crew had planned for two rescue lifts - and more if they had time.


"We thought if we could get those two guys (without survival suits) out, the rest of them would at least have a fighting chance. But when I looked in and saw four of them in just shirts and pants ... I just remember seeing a lot of very scared faces."


There wasn't much time for words.


"It was all pretty fast and furious, trying to get in there. Communication was almost impossible with the noise from the winds, the waves, the aircraft."


It was agreed that Don Brown, at 56 the eldest of the stranded fishermen, who was suffering from a cold, had a heart condition and no survival suit, would be the first to be hoisted up.


But in an instant, Rogers was swept off the raft and into the raging sea, losing much of his gear and ripping open his own suit.


What's more, the force of the jolt bent the hook on his hoist, rendering it useless. The Ontario native was able to hold on, however, as he was hauled out of the ocean and back to the chopper. At one point in the rescue, the towering waves actually lifted the raft to eye-level with the chopper, said Rogers, a 15-year veteran of the Forces who's been a search and rescue technician (SAR-tech) for seven years.


"That was pretty incredible. We initially came in a little lower, so we had to raise our height considerably. Actually, the whole time we were there, we realized this raft was rapidly closing with the cliffs. And as we got closer, all the problems got worse exponentially; we started getting recirculating winds off the cliffs and, as the water became shallower, we were dealing more with breaking waves than rolling waves.


"So, everything that could get worse, did get worse the closer we got."


With his gear in tatters, Rogers summoned Cpl. Norm Penny, the only other SAR-tech on board. Penny had only two months' experience.


As the crew pilot Capt. Scott Tromp, co-pilot Capt. Mike Mondry and flight engineer Master Cpl. Ab Pierce - struggled to keep the chopper steady in 110-kilometre winds, Penny was lowered on a backup hoist for a second shot at rescuing Brown.


"The pilots were working overtime, the engineer was working overtime," said Rogers. "We were basically dope on a rope until we reached the water."


About 10 minutes later, Penny was on his way back to the chopper with Brown, who was wearing only a pair of work pants and a shirt.


"Basically, we just got him in blankets and hot packs and just got hot drinks to him. Again, there wasn't much said. It was loud and very difficult to hear anything up there."


The weather, meanwhile, had deteriorated even further, forcing the chopper to fly off briefly to confirm its position.


"At that time, we really had no reference to the cliffs. We didn't know where we were. We had no idea. It was pitch black," said Rogers.


It got to the point where the only reference point was the spray from the cliffs and foamy water.


They'd try one more rescue.


"I had lost most of my gear in the waves, but Cpl. Penny was still relatively good to go. He went down for the third attempt, but right away we realized conditions had become a lot worse."


Then things got out of hand.


"We got into a situation where the aircraft started surging forward, away from the cliffs, but also away from Cpl. Penny and the raft. There is no machine in the world that could have kept up with the changes in wind at that point."


Rogers said the crew decided they had to cut Penny loose.


"It was a pretty desperate and dangerous call, but in order to prevent him from being literally ripped in two, we had to cut his cable."


A flick of an automatic safety switch and the cable was instantly severed, sending Penny plunging into the fierce North Atlantic.


There was no way to warn him, said Rogers. "There wasn't enough time. This was a split-second call. So now we had our own guy, free swimming in the ocean, a couple of swells away from the life-raft.


"The tempo now really had changed. We were really worried about him, and the others, going in on those rocks."


Using a searchlight, the crew managed to keep Penny in sight as he struggled to release himself from the weight of 150 feet of cable that was pulling him under water.


Both of the Cormorant's hoists "were toast."


Rogers was forced to rig a makeshift hoist with rope and a rescue basket to recover Penny from the punishing waves.


"It worked that well that he thought we'd fixed the first hoist."


Once Penny was in the basket, the decision was made to go to land.


"We knew now we were way out of time.


"There was actually sea spray coming from the back of the aircraft - and it wasn't from the rotors, it was coming off the rocks.


"It was so black, all we could see was the white foam of the water at the base of the cliffs. There was no time to even raise (Penny) to the aircraft."


Rogers acknowledged the decision to leave the life-raft at the mercy of the ocean and the cliffs was not easy.


"Our best-case scenario was they'd be pushed into a cove. I was just hoping and praying they'd go into a cove."


The chopper rose about 500 feet and "hover-taxied" over land, lowering Penny to the ground. They then landed on the "nearest, clearest point" - a road about two kilometres from the cliffs.


Don Brown was quickly transferred to an ambulance and taken to hospital.


The rescue had now shifted from an ocean rescue to a land-based rescue.


"We weren't sure what local resources they had," said Rogers. "We hitched a ride with a local fella - who was more than enthusiastic about it - in the back of his truck.


"He drove us to a command post that had been set up. We co-ordinated with the local ground search team, who shuttled us to the cliffs on the back of an ATV."


Meanwhile, the life-raft was thrown on to the rocks and three of the crewman were able to get ashore. A fourth crewman - David Ryan, 47, of St. Brendan's, Nfld. - died and his body was later recovered. His brother, Joseph, 42, was still missing yesterday and presumed drowned.


A rope had already been thrown to one survivor who managed to climb, hand-over-hand, up the 100-foot-high cliff.


"And this was really rough, ugly rock, with a lot of water coming down in virtual waterfalls. When we got there, he was just cresting the top. He'd managed to scurry up a very steep slope."


A more secure luring system was quickly rigged up and Penny was called back into action.


"Norm was pretty banged up, he swallowed a lot of water but he was good to go, still rarin' to go, and probably on a bit of an adrenaline buzz. He had a pretty good ride in the ocean, out there free swimming for five to 10 minutes, maybe more."


Penny rappelled down to another survivor, and a pully/harness system was rigged up to raise the other two survivors.


"I honestly couldn't believe there were people alive down there," said Rogers.


"The last guy to come off the cliff had been hanging on almost two hours, literally perched by his tip toes and finger tips on the cliff edge. But it was a real boost to our spirits because we felt like we'd just left those guys out there."


He noted there was some luck to where the life-raft crashed ashore. "As bad as it was, it could've been a lot worse for them. There was actually a bit of a landfall there; a small rock or (boulder-like) outcropping. It wasn't much, but at least it was something. They weren't coming up against a 90-degree angle.


"If they had come up on sharp, jagged rocks, in those waves, they never would've made it."


Rogers said the rescue team also had to recover the body of David Ryan.


Rogers, meanwhile, had nothing but praise for the performance of the Cormorant.


"There was a lot of controversy about the hoist on the Cormorants, but honestly, and I'm one of the first guys to be critical of federal purchases, she performed well," he said.


"We've really come a long way with this helicopter. I don't think they've made a machine yet that can compete with Mother Nature, and whoever does will be a rich man.


"And when you look at the numbers - we had seven people in the water, including Norm (Penny), and five came home. It's very unfortunate for the two men lost, but considering the conditions, in hindsight, I'm amazed we were that successful."

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