The helicopter team from RNAS Culdrose onboard HMS Ocean were scrambled to airlift a frail pensioner to safety when medics on Dominica were unable to treat him due to storm damage, the UK Royal Navy has reported. The helicopter carrier was dispatched to the Caribbean as part of the UK’s military response to Hurricanes Irma, Jose and Maria
A Merlin helicopter was launched from amphibious assault ship when she picked up a plea for help from the hospital in Roseau, the island’s capital, where an 80-year-old man had been brought in suffering from pneumonia. With no electrical power, medication or fresh running water in the infirmary, the elderly man was not expected to survive the night.
As a British citizen he was entitled to evacuation, the Navy noted, adding that helicopters lifted 39 vulnerable Britons to safety from the small island as one of the first tasks when Ocean arrived off Dominica. While that was a relatively straight-forward operation, airlifting the pneumonia patient and his wife proved rather more complex for the crew of the helicopter from 820 Naval Air Squadron, whose standard task is to hunt submarines and provide protection for the UK’s new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth.
The rear of the helicopter, which is usually crammed with seats and submarine-hunting equipment, was turned into a mobile intensive care unit, complete with a Royal Navy emergency doctor and nurse, said Observer (navigator/weapons and sensors specialist) Lt Commander ‘Bernie’ Winterton. He explained: “The town was in complete darkness as there was no electricity, and residents had lit small fires in amongst the remains of their properties, creating a surreal atmosphere.”
The helicopter landed close to the hospital, where the medics stabilised the patient. The Merlin then made the short return flight to HMS Ocean. The patient and his wife spent the night onboard the warship before being flown by the Merlin crew once more, this time to Barbados – hub of the hurricane relief effort – for onward transport to the UK.
Lt Cdr Winterton’s helicopter is one of nine aircraft on Ocean – two are Royal Air Force Chinooks, and the remainder are Royal Navy Merlins and Wildcats – which the Navy said had been heavily in demand during the 12 days the carrier has been in the Caribbean. As of 4 October, the aircraft had collectively flown 340 hours of missions, delivering 170 tonnes of aid and supplies and moving 650 passengers around the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Dominica and the Turks and Caicos.