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The Billy Deacon Search and Rescue (SAR) Memorial Trophy

May 05, 2015

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The Billy Deacon SAR Memorial Trophy will be presented at the Air League’s Annual Awards Ceremony at St James Palace, on Tuesday 05th May 2015 by HRH Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh.

Sponsored by Bristow Helicopters Ltd and Breitling UK, the Trophy has been established to further the memory of Mr Billy Deacon who was tragically lost while carrying out his duty as winchman with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency Search and Rescue helicopter based at Sumburgh in the Shetland Isles in 1997.

The 2015 award has been made to Sergeant Neil Clements (see attached citation).

The Billy Deacon SAR Memorial Trophy is awarded to winchmen / winch operators from the Coastguard, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy for meritorious service during SAR helicopter operations from UK SAR bases. The award committee, independently chaired by the Operations Director of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, sits annually to consider nominations.

It was in November 1997 that the merchant vessel Green Lily got into difficulties in extreme weather conditions, hurricane force 12, with 15 crewmembers on board. With the vessel foundering, five crewmembers were taken off by the Lerwick Lifeboat, a feat honoured by the coxswain receiving the RNLI`S Gold Medal, its highest award for gallantry, often referred to as the lifeboatmen`s VC. As the Lifeboat was unable to recover the rest of the crew, and with the Green Lily very close to the rocky shoreline, the remaining crew had to rely on the SAR helicopter for rescue.

In mountainous seas, Billy was winched down to the deck of the vessel. Once on board he placed the remaining crewmembers, two at a time, in the rescue strops and they were all winched to the safety of the helicopter. As the helicopter was in the process of recovering Billy who was alone on the deck and with the ship now on the rocks, he was washed overboard and engulfed by the waves. In recognition of Billy’s outstanding courage and bravery in the most severe and demanding conditions he was posthumously awarded the George Medal.

Citation for the 2015 Award:

On 05 November 2014, Sergeant Neil Clements was the winchman on board RESCUE 131, the duty search and rescue helicopter based at RAF Boulmer, which was scrambled to rescue a woman who was in distress in rough seas off Tynemouth Pier. Although three RNLI lifeboats and HM Coastguard staff were already at the scene, the treacherous sea conditions had prevented them from rescuing the woman, who had been torn from the grip of a rescuer by the sheer force of the waves.

Once on scene, the crew located the woman who was helpless amongst powerful waves that were battering heavily against the pier and the force of which had stripped her of her clothing. Sergeant Clements unhesitatingly volunteered to be winched into the heavy seas. Whilst attached to the helicopter’s winch cable, he used his full strength to try to fight through the waves to reach the woman, but was beaten back repeatedly and forcibly submerged several times by a succession of massive waves, which were moving unpredictably. Just as he managed to grasp her, a particularly severe, rogue wave wrenched her from his grasp and submerged him yet again. At this point, the woman was lost from view and Sergeant Clements was winched back on board the helicopter to recover from the severe exertions he had undertaken.

Sergeant Clements then checked his rescue equipment while the crew considered their options. Despite the prospect of being dashed against the pier by large waves or succumbing to immersion in the raging torrent, he again willingly volunteered to enter the treacherous water to reach the woman. Assisted by on-shore observers, the crew successfully located the woman and Sergeant Clements was winched down into the crashing waves. He secured a solid grip on the woman, but the heavy seas prevented him from securing her into the rescue strop, this being the normal procedure before winching a casualty on board. The precariousness of their condition left him with only one option, and therefore, using every ounce of strength, he redoubled his grip on the woman and indicated to his crew to lift and move them into calmer water.

During this manoeuvre, he bore her full weight solely using his own strength, until they were lowered into calmer waters where he secured the woman safely before being winched on board the helicopter. Despite his fatigue, Sergeant Clements immediately gave medical directions to his inexperienced radar operator, who was taking part in his very first rescue. En-route to Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary, Clements provided emergency CPR and medical care of the highest calibre and this included the protracted patient transfer between the rooftop helipad and the Infirmary's accident and emergency department.

Sergeant Clements not only placed himself at considerable personal risk during the first rescue attempt, but did so a second time to rescue a helpless woman. His courageous actions and the medical care he delivered undoubtedly saved her life until she was transferred to the Newcastle Royal Infirmary for continued specialist care. It is with deep regret that we must inform that the woman sadly passed away some days later after succumbing to her ordeal that fateful day. Sergeant Clements' actions were in the highest traditions of the Royal Air Force and he displayed exceptional personal bravery, determination and life-saving skills.

Note to the Editors:

About Bristow Helicopters Ltd
Bristow Helicopters Ltd is the leading provider of search and rescue (SAR) services in the UK, on behalf of Her Majesty's Coastguard, having been awarded the UK SAR contract and the Gap SAR contract for Northern Scotland. Bristow Helicopters has a long history of providing world class SAR services in the UK, beginning in 1971 and has flown more than 44,000 SAR operational hours in the UK and conducted over 15,000 SAR missions, during which more than 7,000 people have been rescued by our crews and helicopters. For more information on Bristow’s SAR operations, please visit www.bristowsar.com.

Bristow Helicopters Ltd. has served the offshore oil transport industry in the UK for nearly 60 years. Bristow Helicopters Ltd. is an affiliated company of Bristow Group Inc.

About Bristow Group
Bristow Group Inc. is the leading provider of helicopter services to the worldwide offshore energy industry based on the number of aircraft operated and one of two helicopter service providers to the offshore energy industry with global operations. The company has major transportation operations in the North Sea, Nigeria and the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, and in most of the other major offshore oil and gas producing regions of the world, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Russia and Trinidad. For more information, visit the Company's website at www.bristowgroup.com.

ENDS

For further information regarding the award, please contact:
Nicholas Horst – Awards Secretary
nhorst@chc.ca
Tel: 07879861478

For further information please contact the Bristow Helicopters Communication team on 01224 806 602 or via bristow@webershandwick.com.