A Royal Navy rescue helicopter from HMS Gannet in Prestwick, Ayrshire, was part of a major emergency response in search of nine people today (April 3).
The group of walkers – three adults and six teenagers – were caught in the heavy snow and freezing conditions on Ben MacDui, the highest mountain in the Cairngorms at 1309 metres, and second highest peak in the UK.
All nine were found safe and well at approximately 1200 metres up the mountain and were lifted down to Braemar Mountain Rescue base.
Retasked from training off Little Cumbrae in the Clyde at 1135, the Royal Navy duty crew was on site at the mountain by 1310, after refuelling in Killin and then contending with 40 knot headwinds.
The HMS Gannet duty observer [navigator] was Lieutenant Angela Lewis who said: “Wind speeds on Ben MacDui when we arrived on scene were probably in the region of 50 knots and wind chill around -35 degrees centigrade, so it was quite unpleasant; very, very cold.
“Although it was a relatively low cloud base, we were able to find the group immediately and the rescue was straight forward and rapid, even with the pretty awful conditions.
“We landed relatively close to the group, though distant enough not to stir up too much snow with the rotors near them and our aircrewman Petty Officer Mike Henson went over to the group to make sure that they were all ok.
“Finding that they were all fine and that there were no injuries, we lifted the group down the hill in two transfers – the first with four of the teenagers and the second with the remaining two teenagers and the three adults.
“Everyone was relieved to see us and very grateful to be taken off the hill and to get to the warmth and safety of Braemar Mountain Rescue Team Base.”
The job was Petty Officer Henson’s very first as a qualified Sea King and search and rescue crew – he has recently joined HMS Gannet having transferred from Merlin helicopters; today was his final training and he had just qualified before the crew left Little Cumbrae en route to the Cairngorms job.
The full crew was Lieutenant Commander Geoff Richardson and Lieutenant Mike Paulet (pilots), Lieutenant Angela Lewis (observer), Lieutenant Alex Stevenson (observer) and Petty Officer Mike Henson (aircrewman).
HMS Gannet is the UK’s busiest search and rescue unit – in 2011, the team responded to 298 call outs rescuing 240 people; the fifth consecutive year they had been busiest.