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Friday, 22 August 2014

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Mike saves 16 people on first day in new job!

MOST of us hope to ease into our first day at work... not Whitehaven Navy hero Mike Henson.

On the very morning when he qualified as a Sea King aircrewman last week, he embarked on a 24-hour shift rescuing 16 people – nearly 300 miles apart.

Petty Officer Mike travelled from freezing conditions in the Cairngorms to stormy seas off North Wales as he was called upon to use his newly-trained rescue skills.

And this is not the first time he has been involved in a dramatic rescue. Mike received the best sailor award at The Sun’s prestigious Military Awards last December after saving the lives of 13 sailors on a sinking tanker in stormy Arabian seas.

Mike, who is based at Prestwick, recently joined HMS Gannet, which is the UK’s busiest search and rescue unit.

He said: “I have wanted to go into search and rescue for several years. I finally qualified in the morning to be a Sea King search and rescue aircrewman and was almost immediately off to my first job. Little did I know at that stage how the day was going to pan out.’’

Initially, Mike was called to a major emergency response to find three adults and six teenagers caught in heavy snow and freezing conditions on Ben MacDui, the second highest peak in the UK.

“Weatherwise it wasn’t particularly nice,’’ he said. “We found them quickly and the whole thing took only about 20 minutes, and they were all safely delivered to the bottom of the mountain. It was a good result and they were relieved to be safe I think.’’

Mike was then asked to go to the aid of two people on a yacht just off the Whitehaven coast. “However, there was also a lifeboat on scene and they had it under control,’’ he explained, “so we headed back to base. I did manage to give Whitehaven a quick wave as we flew by!’’

Mike returns home to the town each week to see his wife, Danielle, and three young children.

He and his colleagues were then only 10 minutes from their Scottish base when the call came through about a troubled cargo ship at North Wales.

“The weather was really awful on scene, it was blowing force nine,’’ he said. “The sea was very rough and the ship was right up against the rocks. You can’t really appreciate quite how noisy it all is until you’re in that situation.

“It was thought there may be a fire risk, so we decided to get people off the ship as quickly as possible,’’ Mike explained. “I winched down to the deck and basically made sure that each individual for each winch was secured in the strop before sending them up to the helicopter.

“We did this four times for the first four crew members and the helicopter then landed to drop them off before coming back for the remaining three crew and me,’’ he said.

“But we only managed one more winch before the cable snagged and, although it did come loose and that fifth person got safely on board the aircraft, the winch was damaged.’’

Lieutenant Angela Lewis, who is the HMS Gannet’s duty observer, said: “Conditions were extremely challenging. Sea spray from the waves was being whipped up to a height of about 60ft in places and we were in the hover at about 80ft, so it was quite nerve- wracking.’’

The helicoper then had to leave the scene to be repaired at RAF Valley at Anglesey. “Although I knew there was another aircraft tasked to help us as I was listening into the ship’s communications with the Coastguard, you can’t help but feel a bit of concern as they flew away from the scene,’’ Mike said.

“There was a two-hour wait on board with the other two members of crew. I have to say the conditions were awful.’’

Eventually, a RAF Sea King was scrambled to help lift Mike and the remaining two crew.

“All in all, a pretty hard day, especially as it was my first day at the sharp end,’’ he said. “Not just because it was quite long, by the time we got back to base it was about 4am, but also it’s physically and mentally draining, particularly in a rescue like the one at the ship.

“I certainly wouldn’t want every duty shift to be like this one!”

At The Sun awards, Mike was presented to Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. Before attending the event, held at London’s Imperial War Museum, Mike and Danielle were invited to Downing Street to meet prime minister David Cameron and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg.

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