GP tells of tanker rescue in 80mph killer storm

Key quote "In conditions like that, the ship was rolling a lot. When we got on, we were sliding from one end of the room to the other. You're trying to deal with casualties and working equipment like stretchers and it makes things very difficult" - Chris Murray, former Royal Navy diver

Story in full LOWERED by helicopter on a thin steel cable over a storm-lashed sea while being buffeted by 80mph winds was not what Christine Bradshaw expected when she agreed to cover as GP on the sleepy island of Hoy.

Yet when the locum GP from Cornwall touched down on the slippery roof of the ship's bridge, in the midst of a worsening winter storm, she was transformed into a maritime rescuer and helped save the life of a seaman.

Dr Bradshaw, 48, was airlifted on to the FR8 Venture, a Singapore-registered tanker, on Saturday afternoon after three crewmen were reported badly injured when the vessel was struck by a massive wave in the Pentland Firth.

Two Indian sailors aged 31 and 39, later died from internal injuries on board the vessel. Their 27-year-old colleague was treated by Dr Bradshaw before being flown by helicopter to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary where he is being treated for spinal injuries.

Dr Bradshaw, an experienced intensive care doctor, was picked up from the deck of the Longhope RNLI lifeboat and transferred to the tanker, for her first offshore rescue.

She yesterday said that her main concern was how she was going to be able to help the badly injured men.

"In a hospital setting, there would probably be ten doctors and a big team of nurses for that number of casualties. I was obviously concerned because I was on my own," she said. "It was fairly chaotic on board given the weather conditions, but the tanker crew did everything they could to try and help save the lives of their colleagues."

The three men had been working at the front of the tanker when it was hit by the 50ft wave after entering the Pentland Firth in westerly winds of up to storm force 10.

The ship contacted the Shetland Coastguard just after mid-day to say that three crewmen had been injured.

Chris Murray said the drama ranked as one of the most challenging rescues he had been involved with in 20 years as a coastguard winchman.

The former Royal Navy diver said: "In conditions like that, the ship was rolling a lot. When we got on, we were sliding from one end of the room to the other. You're trying to deal with casualties and working equipment like stretchers and it makes things very difficult.

"Dr Bradshaw dealt with everything that was thrown at her in an extremely professional manner. I have only praise for her. She deserves a commendation for all she did."

The GP said she felt reassured throughout the operation by the presence of the lifeboat and helicopter crews. "I'm extremely grateful to them," she said. "They couldn't have been more professional and I felt completely safe in their hands. The lifeboat was circling the tanker while we were being evacuated and it was good to know they were there in case there were any problems."

The rescue was co-ordinated by Shetland coastguard. The watch manager, Neil Cummins, said: "The conditions in the Pentland Firth were horrendous - it was seriously nasty out there. Everyone involved put themselves at serious risk to save the life of the third crewman."

Police have already interviewed the captain and crew of the FR8 Venture, which returned to Scapa Flow, where Maritime Accident Investigation Branch officials have begun an inquiry.