Mammoth effort to rescue round-the-world sailor

The Australian Defence Force assisted the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) with a medical evacuation operation off the coast of Western Australia last week.

A Zodiac from MV Stoker approaches CV 22 Garmin, before transferring an ill crew member from the round-the-world racer. Photo by Chief Petty Officer Damian Pawlenko.
A Zodiac from MV Stoker approaches CV 22 Garmin, before transferring an ill crew member from the round-the-world racer. Photo by Chief Petty Officer Damian Pawlenko.

On 17 November, the skipper of round-the-world racing yacht Garmin reported that crew member Erik Hellstrom was suffering stomach pain and preparations for a medical evacuation were under way.

Last Saturday, 18 November, a Royal Australian Air Force C-17A Globemaster dropped medical supplies and equipment to Garmin, which was approximately 1800 nautical miles (3333km) off the WA coast and heading for Fremantle on the latest leg of the Clipper Round the World yacht race.

MV Stoker, contracted to the Royal Australian Navy for submarine search and rescue, was dispatched from Fremantle with four Royal Australian Navy medical personnel, including a doctor to help stabilise and transfer Mr Hellstrom at sea.

The transfer was effected on Tuesday 21 November and Mr Hellstrom was eventually transferred to Fremantle Hospital three days later, on Friday.

 

 

Garmin skipper Gaëtan Thomas, who blogs almost daily, describes the aircraft drop – and a coincidental incident on another yacht – with emotions raw…

Garmin skipper Gaëtan Thomas. Photo copyright onEdition – info@onEdition.com
Garmin skipper Gaëtan Thomas. Photo copyright onEdition – info@onEdition.com

I am not sure how to really start my blog today – a lot of things happened yesterday. As you might know here on Garmin we have one of our pirates, Erik Hellstrom, dealing with a serious abdominal condition. With our remote location in mind, we organised an aircraft medical supplies drop.

Yesterday the plane arrived on scene, flying just above our mast a big Royal Australian Air Force C-17 cargo plane. The mission was to get boxes full of supplies – the pilot and I were in constant radio transmission to see the best plan. We dropped our Yankee, engine on and we had to get 15 boxes in the rough sea – the size of them was 30cm by 60cm – quite a small thing to locate in the water! They started with one box, which we got very quickly, then they sent two boxes, which we also got, then they sent another four – again, we did get them – then just to make it easier, they sent eight of them at the same time! And we got those too! Pilot asked me how many we had and I replied “all of them, sir!”

An un-named RAAF C-17 crew member prepares to drop a 'helibox' containing vital medical supplies. The boxes are designed to rotate enough to slow their decent. RAAF photo.
An un-named RAAF C-17 crew member prepares to drop a ‘helibox’ containing vital medical supplies. The boxes are designed to rotate enough to slow their decent. RAAF photo.

Our medical assistant and GP, Nell Wyatt, was then all over the place, with our trio, Dani Devine, Simone Talfourd and Bill Lyons, opening all those gifts, cases of fluids, morphine, tubes – a lot of stuff!

I want to say that Nell is doing a brilliant job on her doctor duty, she is off the deck watches and with the help of Bill Lyons and Sammi Cardew, Erik is 24 hours under supervision. We are doing everything we can for him.

Now, and this is why it is hard to write this blog…Yesterday, because the Coast Guard from Australia were in constant contact with me, just before the plane arrived the satellite phone rang; they told me that an MOB [man overboard] occurred onboard CV30 (GREAT Britain). They asked me the sea temperature, and the weather here. I was on my own in the table chart, sending all my positive vibes to Andy Burns and his team. “Come on my man, Andy, you are one of the best, you will pick him up, come on!” Then a bit later the phone rang again; the same Coast Guard told me that the casualty is back onboard but he didn’t make it, probably drowning… Very dry, but we had to move on to our crisis, the plane is coming, giving positions etc. In those moments with crew always not far, I had to put my tears away, being a stone and just keep focusing on my mission, picking up 15 small boxes in the water.

Every single box, to me was a MOB (Man Over Board) drill with, in my head, the images of Andy and his team dealing with a tragic moment.

Andy, I don’t have much words – keep strong my man, you did everything you could for Simon Speirs. I am with you and your team, I am making sure here that all my crew is double clipped on in any force of wind. We are doing an extreme sport with extreme punishments, I am sure he will be flying as an albatross now, death is part of life. I am sure he wants you to dry your tears and keep sailing fast and safe. All my love and thoughts for you guys. I can’t wait to take you in my arms. Keep strong, keep strong, with all my love and compassion, Gaëtan.

 

Chief of Joint Operations Vice-Admiral David Johnston said the ADF’s support highlighted its ability to assist during an emergency in Australian waters.

“This mission, and its success, once again shows that the Australian Defence Force is ready to respond when called upon,” Vice Admiral Johnston said.

“The immediate response provided by our Air Force assets, and Navy’s subsequent maritime support has ensured a positive outcome in challenging circumstances.”

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Brian Hartigan

Managing Editor Contact Publishing Pty Ltd PO Box 3091 Minnamurra NSW 2533 AUSTRALIA

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