Royal Marine Puts His Life At Risk

Sergeant Tony Russell of the Culdrose based Search and Rescue (SAR) 771 Naval Air Squadron has been presented with a bravery award for his involvement in a night-time rescue in extreme weather conditions where his own life was put at risk.  

Sergeant Russell (Royal Marines) demonstrated selfless bravery and sheer determination in the face of the most appalling conditions and for this has received the Billy Deacon SAR Memorial Trophy.

On Thursday 07 July 2011, Sergeant Tony Russell was the Aircrewman and winchman onboard Rescue Helicopter 193, 771 Naval Air Squadron's duty Search and Rescue aircraft.  

A Swedish registered yacht, the ANDRIETTE, had activated its emergency beacon

Battling strong headwinds and heavy rain squalls with significantly degraded night vision goggle performance, Rescue helicopter 193 arrived to find the yacht moving violently and unpredictably; pitching 30-40 degrees and rolling 50-60 degrees in an increased sea state 7 and winds in excess of 40 knots.  

Crippled and beyond the range of other rescue assets time was critical. 


Receiving his bravery award Billy Deacon

Breaking its tether the life-raft broke free and began to rapidly drift clear of the yacht, removing all visual references for the pilots.  

As Tony was lowered into the darkness he became engulfed by 20 foot waves which disabled his voice communications with the aircraft, however, he calmly gave the Observer hand signals to continue and eventually reached the sea surface.  

Rapidly alternating between being submerged and then suddenly 20 foot clear of the sea surface, Tony finally managed to grasp a trailing painter and physically haul himself into the life-raft.  

Quickly checking the panicked survivors, he calmly reassured them and prepared to recover the most vulnerable.  

Signalling to the aircraft, Tony and the first survivor, were violently dragged back into the air and through the water, however, as they rose the life-raft was capsized by the waves and the remaining survivor lost from sight. 

He was winched back towards the life-raft, again buffeted by waves and managed to swim to the inverted raft.  

There was no sign of the 2nd survivor so with selfless disregard for his own life and without hesitation, he dived under the raft, surfacing in an air pocket where he found the remaining survivor.  

As he attempted to return to the surface to signal to the aircraft that he was okay and had found the last sailor, the panicked survivor, fearing for his life, gripped Tony's arm preventing him from surfacing.  

Trapped underwater, in a sea state 7 with the winchwire pulling in one direction and the survivor the other, Tony fought for breath and managed to rejoin the survivor in the air pocket.  As the winch wire was raised the rescue hook caught on a life-raft handle, and combined with the downwash of the helicopter, flipped the life-raft upright, tossing Tony into the water and the unrestrained survivor back into the raft as it rolled.  

Cutting the winch hook free, Tony swam back to the survivor and placed him in a strop.  

Tony had to cut away more entanglement before he and the survivor were finally winched away from the raft and pitched back into the sea and swell. 

After more than 30 minutes in the water, Tony had rescued both survivors demonstrating selfless bravery, sheer determination and tenacity in the face of the most appalling conditions.  

Refusing to give up despite the clear and significant risk to his own life, displaying the utmost professionalism, courage and fighting spirit.  

There is no doubt that had it not been for Sergeant Tony Russell's bravery and sheer physical determination these men would have perished at sea and for this he has been awarded the Billy Deacon SAR Memorial Trophy.