A tale of outstanding heroism has touched the hearts of a national panel which recognises the outstanding commitment of winchmen.
Sergeant Neil Clements, who is a winchman at RAF Boulmer, was presented with The Billy Deacon SAR (Search and Rescue) Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to personnel from the Coastguard, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy for meritorious service during operations.
Sgt Clements was presented with the award at the Air League’s Annual Awards ceremony at St James Palace, on Tuesday, May 5, by HRH Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh.
He was rewarded for his efforts during the rescue of a woman in treacherous sea conditions off Tynemouth Pier.
The crew of Rescue 131 located a woman helpless among the powerful waves that were battling against the pier.
Sgt Clements entered the torrent of water suspended from his winch cable.
Fighting against waves, he was beaten back and repeatedly submerged until he managed to grasp the woman.
His hold on her, however, was short-lived as a massive rogue wave ripped her from his grasp and again she was at the mercy of the sea.
Having lost sight of the woman in the water, Sgt Clements was winched back and the search recommenced.
When the helicopter located her, without hesitation Sgt Clements was winched back down into the raging seas below to continue his efforts.
Fully focused, he battled against wave after wave until, this time, he secured a solid grip on the woman.
Sgt Clements was fully aware that she could be snatched from his grasp at any time and speed of recovery was essential in completing a successful rescue.
His next move would have been to move the woman into a rescue strop to be winched up, but knowing that this would mean letting go of his hold, he indicated to the crew to move into calmer waters.
During this manoeuvre, he bore her full weight solely using his own strength until they were lowered into calmer waters.
On board, Sgt Clements immediately gave medical directions to his inexperienced radar operator, who was taking part in his very first rescue. En route to the RVI in Newcastle, Sgt Clements performed CPR.
Despite the team’s efforts, the woman passed away some days later.
A spokesman for RAF Boulmer said: “Sgt Clements demonstrated exceptional professional, commitment and courageous personal bravery.
“His actions, sheer determination and the life saving skills that he delivered in the helicopter ensured that the woman was given the best opportunity to survive.”