Wednesday 16 January 2019

Rescuer 'made right call' taking both teens from sea at same time

The rescue operation at Hook Head
The rescue operation at Hook Head

A report into the death of a 14-year-old scout during a coast guard helicopter rescue has found that the winchman who lifted her and a second teenager from the sea at the same time made a "sound decision".

The Air Accident and Investigation Unit (AAIU) looked into the circumstances surrounding the death of Aoife Winterlich, who died after being swept into the sea and then falling 45 feet from the door of the helicopter during the rescue operation.

Aoife, from Walkinstown, Dublin, was with her troop walking along the coast at Hook Head, Co Wexford, on December 6, 2015, when she was swept into the sea with a fellow scout.

The male teenager, who stayed with her, told investigators she was unresponsive from shortly after they entered the water.

The Irish Coast Guard centre in Dublin received a call at 2.04pm and was told that a "number of kids" were in the water.

A helicopter from a Waterford base was dispatched and arrived at the scene shortly afterwards.

When the winchman entered the water and reached Aoife, she was "pale and unresponsive", he told investigators.

The boy was supporting her, trying to keep her head above water despite the risk to his own safety.

He tried to perform CPR on her before the rescue team arrived.

Investigators praised the teenager for his "exceptional effort".

The winchman said Aoife seemed to be drifting under the water and he was concerned, based on previous experience, that the casualties would stop trying to swim.

"The winchman was also concerned that if he winched one casualty to the helicopter, the other would not be able to remain afloat until he returned," the report stated.

Winching both to safety was "considered his only option".

However, as the winchman and the two teenagers reached the door of the helicopter and were about to be recovered, Aoife slipped through the harness and fell around 45 feet into the sea.

She was in the water for 31 seconds after falling.

Afterwards, the crew spent time looking for a third casualty in the water before the male teenager told them there was only the two of them.

The helicopter then made its way to hospital.

The AAIU noted that due to the high-risk nature of rescue operations, "there is always the possibility for a scenario to develop that has not previously been trained for".


It also highlighted that there is no specific guidance on winching an unresponsive casualty from the water, and the unit recommended that guidance be prepared for all search and rescue teams about the risks associated with winching casualties, whether conscious or unconscious, by use of a helicopter rescue strop (harness).

"The investigation considers that the winchman made a reasonable decision given his perception of the prevailing circumstances, the imminent risk to life and the consequent time pressure," the report stated.

Aoife died in hospital on December 11, 2015.

At her funeral, her brother Martin paid tribute to her as the "teen that we all wanted to be".

"Wise and mature when she needed to be, less so when it suited her, Aoife wasn't your average person," he said.

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