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Clipper Round the World Yacht Race - Two crew rescued from Geraldton

by Heather Ewing on 2 Apr 2012
A Coast Guard MH-60T medium range helicopter and a cutter boat from the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf respond to Geraldton Western Australia - Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race Cutter Bertholf
Clipper Round the World Race yacht Geraldton Western Australia has undergone a rescue operation after crew members on board sustained injuries when the boat was hit by a large wave in heavy seas on Saturday. Two of the injured crew members have been transferred successfully onto a US Coast Guard cutter.

The decision has been taken to transport them to San Francisco Bay on the ship rather than transfer them to helicopter. They are being treated by medical specialists aboard the US Coast Guard vessel which is due to arrive at the USCG Alameda facility on Coast Guard Island in San Francisco Bay on Monday 2 April. The casualties will be transferred by ambulance to San Francisco General Hospital. The vessel is expected to arrive alongside between 0700 and 0800 local time today (1400-1500 UTC/1500-1600 BST).

The two crew who have been transferred are:

Jane Hitchens, 50, a doctor, has suspected broken ribs and is being treated with oxygen.

Nik Brbora, 29, a software engineer who lives in London who has a suspected pelvic strain.

The other two crew involved in the incident will remain on board Geraldton Western Australia and are expected to arrive in Jack London Square, Oakland, San Francisco Bay on Monday afternoon 2 April local time (UTC-7/BST -8). They are:

Max Wilson, 62, a farmer from Queensland, Australia, who also has suspected broken ribs, but in a more stable condition.

Mark Burkes, 47, who was on the helm at the time of the incident, sustained a back injury but is not as badly hurt as originally believed and has been taken off the casualty list.

The following extracts from the US Coast Guard statement on the operation explain the rescue procedure.

Extracts:
'The successful rescue of the two people now safely aboard the US Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf follows two days of intensive search and rescue operations.

'In today's operations, a San Diego-based Coast Guard MH-60T crew, operating from the deck of the Bertholf, had planned on airlifting but once on scene the aviators determined that the boat's rigging and mast presented too great a hazard. Instead, one of the Bertholf's two rescue boats, a National Security Cutter equipped with a stern-launch system for effective launch and recovery of small boats, successfully transferred the injured crew to the cutter. Once on board, they were evaluated by the cutter's medical specialists.

'Bertholf's commanding officer, in consultation with medical experts ashore, decided the best course of action was to head back to shore with the injured yacht crew.

'In addition to the rescue helicopter and Bertholf, a long-range Coast Guard HC-130J Hercules aircraft based at Air Station Sacramento also were involved in the rescue operation. On Saturday, one of these aircraft flew a California Air National Guard pararescue team to the scene of the stricken sailboat in hopes of delivering the highly trained medical and rescue personnel directly to the sailboat. That team could not parachute down to the damaged sailboat due to rough weather, however, was able to drop medical supplies to the yacht. A second Coast Guard C-130 assigned to the rescue today provided communications support and safety backup for the helicopter flight operations.

'I'm very proud of the crew of the cutter Bertholf, the U. S. Coast Guard and California Air National Guard flight crews involved in this case, and the crew of the sailboat as well' said Capt. John Prince, chief of staff of the 11th Coast Guard District. 'Everyone demonstrated expert seamanship and airmanship to ensure the injured sailors were safely delivered to proper medical care. I'm especially grateful to have assets like the Cutter Bertholf, one of our newest and most capable ships, available for operations such as this. The cutter is a solid, versatile and highly effective platform. Its ability to launch helicopters and rescue boats in high sea states was critical to the successful outcome of this operation.'

Stills and footage of the rescue, showing how difficult the conditions were for the transfer, are available online from the US Coast Guard: Stills and full US CG Footage of Clipper Round the World Yacht Race website
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