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Good Samaritan Vessels Support Joint UK-Spanish SAR Mission

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File image courtesy Marcosbascuas76 / CC BY SA 2.0

Published Jul 7, 2021 8:55 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Tuesday morning, two UK nationals were hoisted to safety from a disabled yacht in stormy conditions about 240 nm southwest of Brittany.

At just before 1900 hours on Monday, HM Coastguard received a distress alert from a UK-registered personal locator beacon (PLB). With the emergency details registered with the PLB, it was established that the signal had come from a 45-foot catamaran with two people on board, traveling from Cape St. Vincent in Spain back to the UK. 

Although the skipper of the yacht was known to be experienced, weather conditions in the area were known to be poor. It was also impossible to contact him, so HM Coastguard initiated its search and rescue protocols. The agency broadcast a request to ships in the vicinity of the yacht in hopes that they might be able to help. 

As the PLB continued to send back its updated position it became clear the catamaran was only moving at one knot in a south-westerly direction, suggesting the vessel was unable to move under its own power. Three tankers in the area agreed to divert to the position reported by the PLB.

Simultaneously, HM Coastguard’s Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre worked with French and Spanish counterparts to establish which aircraft would be best to send. The Spanish Coast Guard agreed to send a long-range helicopter with a C130 Hercules providing top cover, as it was too far for any UK aircraft to reach.

At 2200, one of the tankers managed to make radio contact with the yacht, although communications were difficult because of the conditions and the distance. With the tanker serving as a relay, HM Coastguard managed to confirm with the yacht’s skipper that the catamaran was disabled, that they could not move and that they needed rescue.  

The Spanish flight, which had left at 2300, said it would have just 15 minutes of loiter time to carry out the rescue before it would have to go back. 
Luckily, at just after 0100 on the following morning, word came that the Spanish helicopter had safely winched the two people from the yacht and got under way back to Spain.  

“I’m not ashamed to admit that there was a huge cheer and applause from my colleagues and I when we had that message to say the two were safe. It was a challenging search and rescue and the work put in not just here in the UK but also in France and Spain by our colleagues showed just why we call ourselves the Search and Rescue Family," said Piers Stanbury from HM Coastguard who worked with his team overnight to coordinate the rescue. "The weather was bad enough to leave us seriously concerned for the welfare of the two people on board the yacht. It also proved a challenge in terms of sending the right aircraft along with the sheer distance of how far away the yacht was."