November 19, 2016, marked the 19th anniversary of the passing of Bristow winchman Billy Deacon. Deacon was tragically lost while carrying out his duties on a search and rescue (SAR) helicopter, operating on behalf of Her Majesty’s Coastguard, from the Sumburgh base in the Shetland Islands in 1997.
The incident raised the bar in search and rescue safety standards and resulted in Bristow designing the dual hoist which is now a standard piece of SAR kit across the industry. Bristow also established the Billy Deacon Award in his honor and annually awards The Billy Deacon SAR Memorial Trophy to winchmen and winch operators for meritorious service during SAR helicopter operations in the UK. The award committee, independently chaired by the operations director of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, sits annually to consider nominations.
“Billy Deacon will forever be a part of Bristow SAR, indeed the UK SAR Conference Room in Aberdeen is named after him as an enduring reminder,” said Bristow Director of UK SAR Russell Torbet. “His selfless devotion and heroism is reflected in those who continue his legacy in delivering the search and rescue service in and around the UK. The Billy Deacon SAR Memorial Trophy is a most fitting tribute.”
On the day in question, the merchant vessel Green Lily got into difficulties in extreme weather conditions, hurricane force 12, with 15 crew members on board. With the vessel foundering, five crew members were taken off by the Lerwick Lifeboat. As the lifeboat was unable to recover the rest of the crew, and with the Green Lily very close to the rocky shoreline, the remaining crew had to rely on the SAR helicopter for rescue. In mountainous seas, Deacon was winched down to the deck of the vessel. Once on board he placed the remaining crew members, two at a time, in the rescue strops and they were all winched to the safety of the helicopter.
As the helicopter was in the process of recovering Deacon, who was alone on the deck and with the ship now on the rocks, he was washed overboard and engulfed by the waves before the aircraft could complete his rescue. In recognition of Deacon’s outstanding courage and bravery in the most severe and demanding conditions he was posthumously awarded the George Medal.
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