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Petty Officer Alan Murphy has been awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Bravery for keeping his unconscious comrade alive in freezing and stormy seas.
The pair were on board the Type 23 frigate HMS Somerset off Plymouth in January last year when they were swept off the flight deck by a freak 40-ft wave.
The 27 year old's colleague, a Leading Hand, hit his head on the side of the ship and his lifejacket failed to inflate automatically.
“I swam over to him and tried to manually inflate his jacket but this was impossible because of the size of the waves – it had suddenly become stormy and they were huge. So I did all I could to keep his head above water which was not easy because I was swallowing a lot of water too. After about five minutes he became unconscious.
“The ship was moving at speed and we lost sight of it at one point. But when I saw it coming back towards us it was a huge relief but it was still a massive struggle keeping hold of my colleague and trying not to swallow water myself. I tried to remain calm and confident that someone would see us very soon.”
The pair spent about 15 minutes in the water before the ship’s seaboat arrived on the scene. “It seemed to come out of nowhere – I could not see it approach because of the size of the waves,” said PO Murphy.
After being treated on board HMS Somerset by medics they were taken by helicopter to hospital in Plymouth. PO Murphy was released later the same day but his colleague spent two days in intensive care but has since made a full recovery.
“I have only seen him once since then as our careers have gone separate ways, but it is just a relief that he’s now OK.”
PO Murphy said he only found out about the award a few days ago and was shocked at first. “I had not thought about the incident for months as it was over a year ago and never expected anything like this. But it has sunk in now and I feel proud and honoured.”
His citation reads: “If it were not for PO Murphy’s tenacity in holding on to his drowning colleague while endangering his own life in extremely inhospitable conditions, there is no doubt that his colleague would have lost his life.”
Currently studying full time for a degree in electronic engineering at Portsmouth University, he transfers to the Britannia Royal Naval College at Dartmouth in September to train as an air engineer officer.