COASTGUARDS who embarked on a dangerous abseil on St Kilda to save the life of a 87-year-old man who slipped while out walking have been nominated to receive the highest honour for their bravery.
The teams from Lewis and Harris have been put forward for a Chief Coastguard’s Commendation and a special shield in recognition of their work.
They were called to St Kilda on June 26, 2018 - a hot summer’s day - to help the tourist to safety.
He was seriously hurt after falling down cliffs and clung to a precipice some 200ft from the ground.
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The precarious position of the pensioner meant that the Coastguard Rescue helicopter could not be used given concerns the down draft from the craft could blow him over the edge.
Deploying the skills of the rope rescue team was the only option left for the team.
Rope technician Nathan Harris was sent down the cliff to assess the man, whose legs were dangling dangerously over the edge of the cliff.
The man was also too exhausted and hurt to be able to do much to help those helping him, with Mr Harris securing him with a rescue strop.
Senior Coastal Operations Officer Ronald Maclean, along with his fellow Coastguards and the helicopter crew, decided they couldn’t wait for back up and immediately carried out the rescue.
The challenge was described as “immense” by the teams.
“They only had one set of rope rescue equipment and it would mean having to adapt normal procedures to get to the man.
“If they waited, there was the distinct danger the injured man might die. It was a stark choice. In fact there was no choice,” a post on the Marine and Coastguard Agency website said.
Mr Maclean added: “The conditions were difficult. It was a very hot day making the hard work seem even harder. But we had to move as fast as we could or the man could have died.”
A second technician, Station Officer Willie Campbell, was sent down with a stretcher to help bring the man back up the cliff.
It took more than two hours to gently raise the man to safety. He was taken on board the helicopter and transferred to Western Isles Hospital.
It is understood he made a full recovery and is now planning his next adventure.
Coastal Operations Area Commander Murdo Macaulay nominated all those involved for the special award.
He said: ‘We often talk about the professionalism of our teams in difficult spots. This was one of those occasions where this coupled with decision making in life or death situations undoubtedly saved this man’s life.’