Two police officers who helped medivac a woman who almost drowned in a loch when her lifejacket became trapped around her neck in the first of two rescue missions on the same night have been honoured.
PC Jamie Byrne and PC Iain McInnes saved the lives of six people overnight on September 6, 2020 including four who had fallen into the freezing waters of Loch Long from a dinghy.
The pair discovered the group, including the struggling woman who had started to develop the early signs of hypothermia, in trouble after attempting to ferry supplies back to their yacht.
PC Byrne was tasked with lining up a responding lifeboat – which had taken the group onboard – with a search and rescue helicopter to transfer the woman for hospital treatment, but only after discovering her flotation device had wrapped around her head, pushing her underwater.
The officers were able to prevent a “likely tragedy” despite the pilot warning he only had enough fuel for one trip to a medical facility.
The pair, from the Clyde Marine Unit, were later dispatched again when two fisherman were found drifting in the same body of water at around 1am.
They were awarded the Defence Police Federation prize for excellence at a ceremony in London.
PC McInnes recalled how they arrived “just in time” to save the first group moments before they may have succumbed to the icy temperatures.
“We found four people in the water near a cove on Loch Long. They had been using a dinghy to get refreshments to bring back to their yacht, but when they were transferring from the dinghy, it capsized,” he recalled.
“We quickly assessed that the woman who was in the most trouble was the weakest swimmer. She was struggling and clinging on to a ladder at the side of the yacht, but the ladder had come away from the boat so she was going under the water.
“She was very cold and starting to develop hypothermia. We got there just in time. Even another 30 seconds and I think she would have gone under the water completely. When we got her settled we were able to get the other woman onto the boat as well.”
In the second rescue operation, the duo were able to redirect the fisherman back to entry point of the river despite their vessel, described as an “aluminium boat with an outboard motor,” losing all power and navigation.
PC McInnes, who has spent more than 30 years in the force, said he was delighted to win the award, but added he was more pleased for his colleague – who had been in the role less than a year at the time of the the incident.
PC Byrne added: “The woman needed to be evacuated sooner rather than later – time was of the essence and there was a lot of pressure because the pilot said: ‘We need to make this work on this run; if we don’t I’ll have to go back to the airport to refuel’.
“We paced the helicopter and they lowered their winchman down to prep the casualty, then we paced the helicopter again and they winched them both off together.
“When we achieved it, the smile on my face was from ear to ear. I was quite shocked and surprised to get the award, but it’s lovely to be recognised. I was very lucky that I’d worked with Iain for ten months as a crew during Covid. It was great to learn from him, he taught me a lot.”
Defence Police Federation Chairman Eamon Keating said: “Iain and Jamie displayed composure, courage and exemplary boat skills when helping the people who’d fallen into the loch. Jamie had only recently qualified as a RHIB coxswain. His skill, along with Iain’s experience, prevented this rescue from being a recovery.
“Their subsequent rescue of the fishermen showed quick-thinking; who knows what difficulty those men could have got into.”