Canadian Air Force helicopter plucks two
injured mariners from bulk carrier

A Canadian Air Force Cormorant helicopter hovers over the 616-foot bulk carrier before hoisting two injured crewmembers off the ship.

Heavy seas off the British Columbia coast knocked crewmen against railings and onto the deck of a bulk carrier, prompting a challenging air rescue. The 616-foot Grand Glory was struck by a series of strong waves at 0900 Jan. 9 in the Pacific Ocean, off the west coast of the Queen Charlotte Islands. At least five people were hurt aboard the Panamanian-flagged freighter.

When Canadian Air Force rescuers arrived, they saw that the loaded vessel was sitting very low in the water. The crew reported that a series of waves in already-heavy seas flung crewmembers to the deck or against rails and bulkheads.

“That is what caused all the injuries,” said Sgt. Dwayne Guay, search and rescue technician team leader with the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Victoria. “We only saw five that sustained injuries, but our understanding was that there were quite a few people that were hurt. One guy had a broken leg and the other guy we figured broke his tailbone. These were the two that we took off the vessel.”

Grand Glory had departed Kalama, Wash., loaded with beet pulp pellets. The ship was bound for Kashima, Japan, when it ran into the rough weather, including sustained winds as stiff as 30 knots. The vessel, managed by Ta Tong Marine Co. Ltd., was battered by the brutal waves.

The bulker was 15 to 20 miles west of Moresby Island, heading 310° with a following sea, when rescuers arrived, said Major Jason von Kruse, first officer aboard the Cormorant helicopter.

“It had about 5 meters of roll to it and the bow was almost completely down in the water in its motion,” he says. “We had 15-mile visibility and a cloud deck 800 to 1,000 feet up — plenty for a helicopter — and the wind was steady at 25 to 30 knots.”

Guay said visibility was limited. The 27,575-gross-ton ship was full of cargo and, therefore, was sitting low in the sea.

“That gives a ship of that nature really good stability,” Guay said. “It was still pretty rough. We could see the anchors when it was plowing through the water and the anchors being submerged. We could tell there was some tricky maneuvering to do.” When the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Victoria received the call requesting assistance, the Cormorant helicopter was already out on a training mission. The training crew immediately shifted gears to respond to a real rescue.

The Cormorant helicopter rendezvoused with a 442 Squadron Buffalo on the northern part of Vancouver Island to transfer equipment and crew. The two aircraft took about 1.5 hours to get to Grand Glory.

After a thorough reconnaissance around the ship, the Cormorant moved into position. The ship slowed down, something that is not helpful, Guay said.

“By slowing the vessel down, you create more bobbing and weaving,” he said. “Typically most people think they should slow down, but then we are more subject to the rolling and pitching of the vessel.”

A senior team leader, Sgt. Yves St-Denis, was hoisted down to the ship first. He was able to provide stability to the others with the use of the guideline, a rope that is attached to the hoist hook. The guideline is controlled by the person on the ship, while the hoist is controlled by the flight engineer on the helicopter.

The SAR (search and rescue) techs must rely on the flight engineer for their safety, as placing a person on a heaving and rolling deck is a delicate and hazardous maneuver.

“The flight engineer has to watch the motion of the boat to ensure the SAR tech is held above the highest point of the heave. If not, the boat comes up and crashes into the SAR tech as he is being lowered to the boat,” Guay said.

“When the boat becomes steady, the flight engineer lowers the SAR tech just enough, and quick enough, to put him down on a steady platform,” he said. “If this isn’t done right, you end up with a compression injury. It takes a lot of training and fine-tuning.”

Von Kruse, on his first helicopter mission to a ship of this size, said the rolling motion presented challenges in positioning the helicopter over the deck. Grand Glory also had 80-foot cranes, so he had to hover higher than the cranes.

“It is fairly important to keep the helicopter in a steady position and let the boat move — as opposed to chasing the boat,” von Kruse said. “When the boat rolls that much, at times it looks like you are too far to the right or too far to the left, but in fact it is the boat rolling.”

The injured were transferred to the Buffalo aircraft in Sandspit and flown to Vancouver, where they were treated at a hospital.

By Professional Mariner Staff