A helicopter crew and a lifeboatman from the Westcountry were hailed as heroes when they received prestigious awards for daring and dangerous rescues in horrific sea conditions.
A crew from RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall was recognised at the Shipwrecked Mariners Society's annual Skill and Gallantry Awards, in London last night for an incident in which one member found himself struggling for breath when he was held under water by a panicking casualty trapped under an upturned life raft.
Meanwhile, Exmouth lifeboat helmsman Roger Jackson's award was for his role in leading the lifeboat crew in the rescue of four people whose inflatable boat had capsized in gale force conditions last October, leaving them clinging to the wreckage with no life jackets.
He managed to locate the casualties despite four-metre high waves, limited radio contact, and little time to act before they were separated and cast adrift.
He directed them to swim to the lifeboat one at a time, as he skilfully manoeuvred his boat while anticipating the effects of the sea and avoiding debris, before negotiating a dangerous journey back to shore.
Commodore Malcolm Williams, chief executive of the Shipwrecked Mariners' Society, said: "Helmsman Roger Jackson showed outstanding leadership, and impressive boat handling skills in atrocious sea conditions while demonstrating decisiveness and courage in a time-critical situation."
The RNAS Culdrose crew's award was in recognition of their rescue of the yacht Andriette on July 7 last year, which had lost steering and experienced engine difficulties, so the two crewman had taken to the life raft.
The rescue crew, made up of Lieutenant Commander Mike Luscombe, Aircraft Commander Captain Martyn Roskilly, Lt Jason Sawyer and Sergeant Antony Russell, skilfully established a 70ft hover over the life-raft in atrocious conditions and the winchman, Sgt Russell, was lowered into the darkness.
Sgt Russell successfully secured the first crewman, but as he was raised into the air, a large wave capsized the life-raft and the remaining survivor disappeared. When Sgt Russell was lowered again, there was no sign of the survivor so he dived under the raft and found him in an air pocket.
As he dived back down briefly to signal that all was well, the panicked survivor gripped Sgt Russell's arm, preventing him from surfacing. Trapped underwater, Sgt Russell fought for breath before managing to rejoin the survivor in the air pocket.
Lt Commander Luscombe directed the crew to raise the winch. Sgt Russell managed to secure the survivor in a rescue strop and lifted him to safety.
Commodore Williams praised the crew, saying they demonstrated "good leadership, cool professionalism, teamwork, grit, determination and courage in this dangerous rescue".