Business as usua
NORTHERN or Southern hemisphere, ice and snow are just another factor in the business of the Royal Navy – and it has been very much business as usual. You would expect the Senior
Service’s ice patrol ship to cope with such conditions – but the unpredictable nature of Antarctica can still throw up new challenges.
So when pack ice began to build up around a Norwegian
liner off the frozen continent, HMS Protector was just the ticket to ensure the passengers continued to enjoy their trip unhindered. The Portsmouth-based survey ship smashed through ice up to four
metres (13ft) thick
to clear a way through the Antarctic Sound – a strait at the eastern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, 650 miles from South America – so the Fram could continue her progress.
The Fram, which
gives tourists the chance to sample the stark beauty of the frozen wastes, had been following the icebreaker through gaps in the pack ice when she began to be surrounded by fast-moving floes, blocking her path and trapping the bow.
Protector immediately turned the
approaching the Fram from astern and breaking up the ice in a delicate two-hour operation, which saw the icebreaker moving at just two knots. “This is what we do in the ice
l HMS Victory, which is undergoing restoration – hence the lack of masts and rigging
patrol ship – we are the Royal Navy’s equivalent of a Swiss Army knife – red, versatile and always there when you need us,” said Protector’s Commanding Officer Capt Peter Sparkes. “Protector’s ship’s company are highly-trained and well- equipped to deal with a spectrum of operations in Antarctica. “That we are able to do so, so
readily, is a clear demonstration of the Royal Navy’s global reach and operational preparedness.” Sub Lt Rowland Stacey of the
Royal Canadian Navy, currently on exchange with the Royal Navy and serving with Protector, added: “This was an extremely impressive feat – operations in ice can be very challenging, but HMS Protector made it look easy. “I am delighted to be a part of this team.”
Ice conditions in Antarctica are
l A sailor clears snow from the name board of Type 45 destroyer HMS Dauntless in Portsmouth Naval Base (left) while snow settle on the guns and gun port lids of HMS Victory (below)
Pictures: LA(Phot) Arron Hoare (HMS Protector);
PO(Phot)s Paul A’Barrow and Simmo Simpson (FRPU East)
extremely variable and subject to the vagaries of
wind and local currents. Ships can quickly become beset when the concentration of pack ice increases. Once they are trapped, ships
may have to wait for days, or even weeks, to escape.
The incident took place just a few miles from where Protector cut through the ice 12 months ago to prevent the ship herself being trapped – and a team of scientists stranded on James Ross Island. One year on and after the Fram mission, Protector resumed her patrol of the British Antarctic Territory,
international inspection team’s surveys of environmentally- sensitive sites.
The ship is due to complete three further five-week patrols of the continent before heading north at the beginning of April and the onset of the austral winter. Another
Prestwick on the Ayrshire coast, rescued a hypothermic climber stranded on a ledge in freezing conditions in Glen Coe in the middle of last month – ‘most likely’ saving his life. Scrambled at 5.25am,
helicopter was airborne in 22 minutes and on the scene at Glen Coe, 80 miles to the north, at 6.05am.
The climber had been out in the mountains since 8am the previous day – almost 24 hours, by the time he was recovered. The alarm had been raised late in the evening when he failed to return to his accommodation. Glencoe Mountain Rescue
Team was alerted and out on the mountain, but had been unable to locate the walker in appalling blizzard conditions with 50mph winds.
Lost on the 3,658ft Stob Coire nan Lochan, a subsidiary peak to Bidean nam Bian, the climber was located by the helicopter at around 2,500ft on a ledge with an overhang above it and nothing but fresh air below it. “When the alarm went off I assumed it would be a medical
HMS Gannet. One of Gannet’s
Royal Navy unit well- versed in operating under harsh conditions
is based at the continent’s
transfer job, just because it was so early,” explained pilot
aircraft commander Lt Cdr Craig Sweeney.
“When we were told it was a climber up a mountain, we knew it could be very serious and that it was likely he had been out all night.
“From being in bed and getting the call to being airborne in the helicopter, it was just 22 minutes. “It was an extremely dark night and absolutely freezing. “We managed to speak to the casualty on his mobile as we were flying up and he was very confused. “The signal was bad, but we established that he had a torch with him and we advised him to shine it for us once he heard the helicopter, just so that we could locate where he was.” Lt Cdr Sweeney continued: “When we got up the mountain, we could see a number of torch lights and we knew there were five members of Glencoe Mountain Rescue also up there. “We asked them to flash their torches, which meant we knew that the one remaining rather dim torch we could
see, which didn’t flash, was most likely our casualty. “And luckily it was. We found
him very quickly, but he was in a really difficult place on a small ledge with an overhang above him.
“The air temperature on our
instruments was -8˚C and with wind chill I’d hazard a guess that it was probably more like -20°C. “In the helicopter we could just see the rock face out of one side of the aircraft and nothing but whirling snow out of the other. “Our aircrewman, CPO Dave
Rigg, was winched out to where the torchlight was. “He was put down on around
100ft of wire, but it wasn’t long before he was reporting back that the snow was so thick he could no longer see the helicopter. “Considering a Sea King is 9.5
One of the pilots described the flying conditions as “probably the worst I have ever experienced in the mountains”.
tonnes of aircraft and therefore quite big, that’s a good indication of the lack of visibility. “The substantial
of both Dave and our observer Lt Cdr Martin ‘Florry’ Ford really came into play – with Florry unable to see Dave, he had to essentially use finger-tip touch on the winch wire to sense whether Dave was on the ledge with the casualty or not.
“The whole winch recovery
was done by Florry assessing the pressure on the winch
14 FEBRUARY 2013 :
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