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Sunday 22 October 2017

Cruise rescue drama as glitch grounds helicopter

Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

A CAPTAIN of a cruise liner 560km off the Irish coast with a sick patient on board dramatically cancelled a request for a helicopter.

The request was cancelled just hours after a rescue helicopter en route to the ship had to halt its journey due to technical difficulties.

The captain of the MS Marina, a cruise liner – en route to Cobh, Co Cork, from the United States – had called for an immediate 'medevac' when a man in his 70s became unwell.

It was initially feared that the man had suffered a stroke and that his condition was potentially fatal.

However, a second doctor on board, who is an expert, examined the patient and said an emergency evacuation was unnecessary and the man could be transferred to hospital on arrival in Cobh.

Coastguard rescue commanders had initially put a dramatic plan in place to carry out one of Ireland's longest-ever rescue missions.

But the mission ran into difficulties when the helicopter involved stopped to refuel at an offshore oil rig and was subsequently unable to continue its journey.

The cruise liner was some 800 nautical miles (1,481kms) south west of the Co Kerry coast early this morning when the alarm was raised.

Irish Coastguard officials immediately swung into action and devised a plan to send the Shannon-based Rescue 117 on an epic journey to winch the man from the deck of the liner.

DISTANCE

The hi-tech S-92 helicopter took off early yesterday morning and headed in the direction of the ship, which had turned to close the distance with the rescue helicopter.

Such was the distance of the mission that the S-92, built by US company Sikorsky, had to refuel at an oil rig 180km off the Kerry coast.

The Erik Raude Oil Rig is equipped to refuel helicopters and is presently being used by natural resources giant Exxonmobil to search for oil and gas reserves off the coast of Ireland.

When the helicopter reached the oil rig at 11am and began to refuel, a warning light lit up on the instrument panel.

Protocol dictates that the helicopter could not continue without determining the cause of the problem.

A second helicopter, the much older S-91, Rescue 115 from Waterford, was dispatched with an engineer to the oil rig to fix the problem.

The engineer was winched on board the oil rig and was last night examining the helicopter.

"It is just a precaution – there may be nothing wrong other than a faulty sensor but we can't go out over deep blue water when there is a problem.

"This is a minor technical issue and Rescue 117 will return to Shannon on Friday evening," said a rescue source.

Rescue commanders at the Coastguard Control centre decided that the liner would continue steaming towards the rendezvous point while engineers would try to fix the problem.

All the while an Air Corps spotter plane, a CASA CN-235, maintained watch over the scene.

By sending the second aircraft, Rescue 115, to the scene this helicopter could have carried out the rescue if Rescue 117 was grounded.

But this plan was cancelled when the captain of the vessel contacted Valentia Coastguard Radio Station and informed it that they did not require a helicopter.

The cruise liner, with 1,200 passengers on board, is expected to arrive in Cobh in the early hours of the morning and the sick passenger will be transported to Cork University Hospital by ambulance.

Irish Independent

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