North Sea helicopter rescue crew honoured

The men have been honoured for their role in the rescue. Picture: Complimentary
The men have been honoured for their role in the rescue. Picture: Complimentary
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TWO heroic helicopter crewmen have been honoured for their part in a dramatic rescue in the North Sea last December.

Winchman Andrew Cowx and winch operator Paul Walters played a key role in the rescue of eleven people on board the oil standby ship Vos Sailor, damaged by heavy seas as a ‘Perfect Storm’ struck Scotland’s East coast.

One of the crewmen, Joseph Laws, 50, from Hull, died when the vessel was struck by a huge wave in the storm lashed seas 120 miles off Aberdeen on 15 December.

Mr Cowx and Mr Walters, both search and rescue crewmen with Bond Offshore Helicopters providing cover for oil giant BP, have been awarded the Billy Deacon Search and Rescue Memorial Trophy. The prestigious trophy was established in memory of Billy Deacon, the winchman on board the Sumburgh-based Coastguard helicopter who lost his life in November, 1997, during the rescue of ten crew members from the stricken freighter Green Lily off Shetland.

The award honours SAR winchmen and operators who have shown great skill and courage in carrying out rescues over land or sea within the UK.

Luke Farajallah, the managing director of Bond Offshore Helicopters, said: “Andrew and Paul displayed outstanding courage, composure and selflessness in the face of extremely challenging and hazardous conditions, and I can think of no more deserving winners of the Trophy. Of course they are part of a broader team, and I would also like to commend Captain Graham Stein and Co-Pilot Nick Smalley for their part in this rescue.”

A Bond spokesman explained: “As part of a multi-agency rescue effort coordinated by the Coastguard, one of Bond’s SAR aircraft was first to reach the rig standby vessel Vos Sailor. Despite extremely poor weather and sea conditions, winchman Andrew Cowx volunteered to remain on the deck of the stricken vessel for an hour, to manage the rescue of three remaining members of the ship’s crew, after winch operator Paul Walters had already lifted eight members of the crew to safety.

“The Vos Sailor had lost all power after being hit by a wave, which meant that rescue operations had to be conducted in the dark, and with considerable heave and roll of the vessel. Cowx had also badly injured his foot whilst being lowered onto the vessel. Before rescue aircraft arrived on the scene, one member of the Vos Sailor crew had unfortunately lost their life.”

He added: “Bond has been providing SAR services in the North Sea since 2006, during which time it has flown over 330 rescue missions. Bond’s offshore SAR operation comprises two dedicated, specially-modified Eurocopter Super Puma AS332L2 Mark II helicopters under a long-term contract with BP to provide 24-hour airborne SAR and medical evacuation in a unique UK BP North Sea initiative known as Jigsaw. One of the high-specification, twin-engine aircraft is based at Sumburgh Airport, Shetland, the other on BP’s Miller platform, in the central North Sea.”