Search and rescue volunteers from Lewis and Harris were reunited today (Wednesday June 12th) with the man at the centre of one of the most exceptional rescues in the history of Stornoway Coastguard service.
Rescuers and rescued came together at an award presentation at the Bristows SAR base at Stornoway airport, as island teams received the Department for Transport’s Rescue Shield in recognition of quick-thinking, decisive action, technical skills and teamwork during the rescue, which happened on June 26th 2018.
Edinburgh hill-walker Robin Scott, then 87 years old, had fallen while walking in St Kilda and was stranded on a steep scree slope above cliffs. He remained, slipping slowly downwards and teetering over a 300-foot drop, for nearly 30 hours before rescuers pinpointed his position and came to his aid.
The Rescue Shield was awarded today, presented to Stornoway Search and Rescue teams for only the second time in its 100-year history. In 1953 it was awarded to Stornoway for the rescue of all on board the Clan Macquarrie, which sank off the west coast of Lewis. Passengers and crew were taken off the ship using the ‘breeches buoy’, a rope system which carried people from ship to shore, one by one.
Today the shield was presented jointly to three teams. The Coastguard operations centre team who were on duty at the time – senior maritime operations officer Graeme Williamson, and maritime operations officers Gareth Edwards and Julie Murray – co-ordinated a massive multi-agency response, which included volunteers from CRTs across Lewis and Harris, Leverburgh RNLI, the Coastguard helicopter and civilian services such as buses and catering.
Also recognised were the crew of R948: pilot Robert Spinks, co-pilot Chris Whittington, winchman Norman Macdonald and winch operator Brian Johnson. Seven members of Stornoway CRT not only shared the shield, but were also presented with individual commendation medals by the director of Her Majesty’s Coastguard, chief coastguard Richard Parkes.
Most importantly, the occasion offered the opportunity for Robin Scott to meet with those who had put his rescue into action. Speaking to welovestornoway.com after today’s award presentation, Robin recalled the hours that he spent lying alone on the cliff, not knowing that rescuers were searching for him. He said: “Part of the time I think I was hallucinating, and then a numbness came over me. After 24 hours without food and drink I thought ‘well, this is it then.’ I felt a sort of peace and thankfulness.
“I am an active believer, and I was giving thanks to God for my life and family, when I started to worry about projects I had left unfinished, work connected with primary school education. It was at that moment that I heard the helicopter and I thought ‘well, that’s God saying I still have work to do.’”
Members of Stornoway Coastguard Rescue Team (CRT) had been transported to St Kilda aboard Coastguard helicopter R948 and a complex technical rope rescue was being set up.
First to reach Robin was 28-year-old Nathan Harris of Back, one of those to receive recognition today. He told welovestornoway.com: “Where the casualty had landed was rocky, with loose chips of stone. He had slipped down even after he heard the helicopter and if he had slipped any further it would have been a 300-foot drop.
“He was very dehydrated. He had good clothing on for the conditions, but he had been there for a long time and it was a hot day. I just said ‘I’m from the Coastguard’ and I managed to get behind him and attach the rescue sling.”
Nathan was unable to move the casualty alone, so he was joined in his dangerous position by Stornoway CRT member Willie Campbell with a stretcher. Between them they managed to get ready to lift, while above them at the clifftop were senior coastal operations officer Ron Maclean and technical ropework team Willie Clark, Mitch Thompson, Alasdair Macdonald and Callum Taylor.
They brought Robin up the slope and into position for an airlift by R948. Nathan waited for his turn to be brought back up on his ropes. Today he said: “While I was waiting for them to be ready I could get an impression of how close to the edge he was. I was attached by two ropes and I found it incredible that he could have survived that position for so long.”
Robin was taken to Western Isles Hospital for treatment where he was found, remarkably, to be uninjured. The teamwork that led to such a successful outcome was recognised today.
Coastguard coastal operations area commander Murdo Macaulay – who also received his 20-year long-service medal today – told welovestornoway.com: “The rescue was in very difficult terrain and required excellent teamwork to ensure the casualty was recovered successfully Although these awards have gone to specific teams and named individuals, they really pay tribute to the whole search and rescue community, who pulled together to achieve a technically difficult operation.
“Ron Maclean’s decision-making and Nathan Harris’s skills were what stopped the casualty sliding over the edge, and without them we could have had a very different outcome.”
Robin Scott returns to Edinburgh tomorrow and will continue his work developing arithmetic teaching with primary school children. He said: “The first thing I said when Nathan reached me was ‘I hope this isn’t going to go in a newspaper’, and until the MCA contacted me on Monday I have never lifted that embargo. When I go home tomorrow the embargo is back on. That chapter has closed and I’m moving on with my life.”
Pictures show the position of the rescue in June 2018 (Robin Scott can just be seen on the left of the picture) and the casualty being taken by stretcher to the waiting helicopter (Stornoway Coastguard Rescue Team). Pictured today are members of the Coastguard teams after receiving their awards from chief coastguard Richard Parkes, the Department for Transport Rescue Shield with Richard Parkes and Stornoway Coastguard’s maritime operations controller Angus Maciver (right), and Robin Scott (centre) with his first responders Nathan Harris (left) and Willie Campbell, holding their well-deserved awards. (Annie Delin).