This morning, Sunday 6th September, the volunteer crew undertook a training and familiarisation exercise with the crew of the Irish Coast Guard’s Sligo based rescue helicopter, “India Romeo Charlie” or “Rescue 118” when on mission.
Just before 10am the helicopter landed on the pitch of Bundoran GAA and within minutes the briefing began with winch operator Ger Fagan talking the crew through the “high line”. This is the process by which somebody is winched up to or down from the helicopter when it is in the air and is commonly used to transfer a casualty safely from ground to air in an emergency situation.
More often than not when the helicopter and the lifeboat are involved in a rescue locally, the lifeboat will be on scene first as well as shore crew so it is important that the Tractor, Shore & Trainee Crew in addition to ILB Crew know how to deal with the high line procedure properly. Once the briefing was complete, 5 of the crew were taken in the helicopter for familiarisation and were then told the only way out was by winch!
As someone who is not great with heights I was a little apprehensive about doing this but I knew I was in safe hands with Ger and Ballyshannon man Ciaran Ferguson at the pilot controls. I got into the harness and shimmied over towards the door holding tight to the winch rope and next thing I was in the air. Seconds later it was all over and I as on the ground. Two more crew followed me and the chopper took off to do a sea exercise with the lifeboat.
It was time for the boat crew to put into practice what they had just learned at the GAA pitch, at sea. Maneuvering the boat in coordination with the downdraft from the S92 helicopter is tricky with a lot of skill required to ensure the lifeboat is positioned correctly underneath so as not to be affected too much. Three of the crew were winched up and down from the helicopter during the stationary winching using the hi-line technique with many interested spectators watching from the shore.
Our thanks to Pat Walsh and all at Realt Na Mara GAA club for facilitating our training this morning and also to the crew of EI-ICR/Rescue 118 – Captain Ciaran Ferguson, Ger Fagan, Sean Redahan and Richard Wallace.