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Cantonad Rescue

On January 4th 1979 a 2,200 ton Greek freighter with a crew of 16 on board was in difficulties, listing heavily about four miles south of the Channel Light Vessel.

At 21:09hrs the SWA slipped her moorings and set out at full speed. She had 38 miles to steam to get to the casualty’s latest position. The wind was east north east, gale force 8 increasing to 12 and remained so for the duration of the service with poor visibility created by snow showers. The lifeboat hit the full brunt of the heavy seas as soon as she left harbour.

It wasn’t long before the life raft canister came loose from its fixing on the foredeck and had to re-secured. A big sea also broke over the stern of the lifeboat just as the wheelhouse door was open resulting in wet conditions right from the outset.


Life raft secured, a now soaked crew back safely in the wheel house, word come through that the plight of the Cantonad had worsened. The lifeboat headed on at best speed given the worsening seas.

Two rescue helicopters had been scrambled and another vessel was on its way to help, but around 22:45 hrs this vessel reported the Cantonad had disappeared from the radar.

About 15 minutes later a huge sea hit the starboard side of the boat, knocking the lifeboat over at about 45 degree angle. The coxswain fell out of his chair towards the rear corner of the wheel house, banging his head and knocking himself unconscious. Another crew member was also thrown across the wheelhouse cracking two ribs in the process.

One of the helicopters had managed to pick up one of the survivors from the life raft and flown them to hospital. The lifeboat continued to search with the other helicopter until around 4am, when conditions became so bad, the search was unable to continue safely. As the lifeboat headed home, her speed was reduced significantly to six knots because of the heavy seas encountered, arriving back in the harbour around 9am.

For this service a third bar to his Bronze medal was awarded to Coxswain John Petit and medal Service certificates awarded to the crew.

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