An Irish Coast Guard helicopter winchman/paramedic has been honoured with a prestigious award in London for his role in rescuing two Italian brothers in a daring operation off the coast of the largest of the Aran Islands in 2019.
Philip Wrenn saved brothers Giovanni and Ricardo Zanon, who fell 20 metres from a cliff at a Poll na bPéist (the Worm Hole) on Inis Mór.
The seas around the island were described as “rough” when the crew of the Shannon-based Irish Coast Guard search and rescue helicopter was tasked on February 23rd 2019. After the alarm was raised, Rescue 115 was dispatched to the serious incident by watch officers at the Coast Guard’s marine rescue sub centre on Valentia Island in Kerry.
CHC/Irish Coast Guard winchman/paramedic Wrenn, and winch operator Ciarán McHugh, worked together to rescue the brothers from the sea as Rescue 115’s Capt Colm O’Grady and co-pilot Art Hyland, piloted the aircraft on the day.
Philip had been lowered to the cliff base while Rescue 115 held off in a holding pattern so he could tend to the casualties. Philip had secured the first brother in a strop in preparation for airlifting and was placing the second man on a spinal board when a massive wave broke over them almost washing them all into the Worm Hole.
In an effort to get the two men and himself onto the helicopter as quickly and safely as possible, Philip took the more seriously injured brother off the spinal board again and placed him in another strop before all three were winched on board the helicopter.
While it’s unusual for three people to be winched on board a helicopter at the same time, had it not been for Philip’s quick-thinking, all three men would have been washed out to sea.
Last month, speaking on RTÉ radio, Ricardo Zanon described the moment he fell and the relief he felt when he saw the helicopter arrive.
“I just remember a grey wall of water coming towards me, it was completely dark, I thought ‘I’m going to die now’ in the fall, luckily when I saw I wasn’t dead I was a bit surprised and then there was a lot of being dragged around by waves and then at last we saw that other tourists had called the coastguard.
I remember this helicopter and then Philip coming down — when I saw him I had the feeling ‘this is going to be ok — we’re going to get out of here.’ It was like that, although I got injured, but we made it, it wasn’t that easy,” Ricardo Zanon.
This evening, Philip has been honoured in Westminster, London where he was presented with the prestigious Billy Deacon Search and Rescue Memorial Trophy ‘for his selfless and meritorious actions.’ The award is one of the highest awards a Search and Rescue (SAR) crewman can receive.
Philip was accompanied to London by his wife Martina as well as the other three crew members on board Rescue 15 for the 2019 mission – Capt Colm O’Grady, co-pilot Aaron Hyland and winch operator/paramedic Ciarán McHugh as well as Rescue 115 engineers Liam Hannon and Hugo O’Grady.
HM Coastguard Winchman Billy Deacon, was tragically lost while carrying out his search and rescue (SAR) helicopter duties in the Shetland Islands on 19 November 1997. In recognition of his outstanding courage and bravery in the most severe and demanding conditions he was posthumously awarded the George Medal.
The daring rescue mission was featured on TG4’s Tabú documentary television series.
The Billy Deacon SAR Memorial Trophy is awarded to winchmen and/or winch operators from contracted (MCA) Helicopter Flights operating within the UK and Irish SAR Regions for meritorious service during SAR helicopter operations. The award committee, independently chaired by the Operations Director of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, sits annually to consider nominations.
In 2017, Gary Robertson of the Sligo-based Rescue 118 helicopter was presented with the Billy Deacon search and rescue memorial trophy for his role in rescuing a fisherman who had become tangled in a rope off Donegal in 2016.
— Ciarán McHugh (@macca9292) September 9, 2021