Two men say they are ‘indebted’ to the RNLI, after their light aircraft ditched in the ocean off the coast of Jersey.

All three of Jersey’s RNLI vessels were requested by the Jersey Coastguard to search for the flight crew of a Piper aircraft that had reportedly crashed into the sea off the southeast coast of the island.

The RNLI crews were joined in the search by a French search and rescue helicopter, Dragon 50, the Channel Islands Air Search plane based in Guernsey and Ports of Jersey’s pilot boat Rival.

The pilots’ life raft

The RNLI crews arrived on the scene in force six to seven winds, with two to three-metre swell. After a search of the area, pilots Duncan Lainey and Paul Clifford were found safe and well in a life raft by the St Helier inshore lifeboat. They were then transferred to the all-weather lifeboat and transported back to St Helier where they were met by paramedics.

Speaking to ITV News after their rescue, Lainey said: “I feel delighted to be back of course. There was a great sense of relief and the RNLI did a fantastic professional job in picking us up very, very quickly.

“We were only in the dinghy for about an hour. That felt like a long time, but as soon as they arrived the service that they provided was exceptional. I’m indebted to what they provided for us.”

The two experienced pilots had been conducting advanced refresher training when the engine of the aircraft lost power. They managed to contact Air Traffic via radio within moments of the engine failure, meaning RNLI lifeboats were already being launched 20 seconds before the plane ditched.

Transfer to the all-weather lifeboat. Photo courtesy of RNLI Jersey

The two pilots used their skill to fly the plane into the wind to slow the speed, and were able to land in the sea. They climbed onto the wing of the plane before it started to sink, before activating a personal locator beacon. From ditching in the sea to their rescue, the casualties were in the water for just under an hour.

Clifford adds: “It was a little bit worrying, but we were alright. We knew that people would come and get us, we were fine.”

The Jersey Coastguard commended the men for their preparedness. “The Personal Locator beacon played a huge part in locating the life raft in gale force conditions. Thanks to the fast response by the crews of all the assets, the use of Drift Modelling Software and the homing signal from the Personal Locator Beacon, the life raft was located very quickly.”

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch are now investigating the incident.

Last week, Penlee RNLI was involved in the rescue of eight people from a yacht after it got into difficulty in “horrendous” weather off Porthleven in Cornwall, as Storm Claudio battered the south coast of the UK.

Marine Industry News UK