PASSERS-BY on the coast near St Mary's Island would have been excused for thinking that a major sea rescue mission was taking place on Sunday afternoon but the spectacle involving four RNLI lifeboats and a Coastguard Rescue Helicopter was in fact a training exercise.
The exercise involved 15 volunteer crew members from Tynemouth and Blyth RNLI lifeboat stations and the four crew on board Coastguard Rescue Helicopter '912' based at Humberside Airport.
The Sikorsky S92A helicopter left its North Lincolnshire base to rendezvous with the lifeboats a mile east of St Mary's lighthouse at 2:15pm.
The main element of the exercise was to practice winching the helicopter winchman on and off the lifeboats, with different techniques being needed by the crews of the three different types of lifeboat, and different techniques needed by the helicopter winchman and pilot in carrying out the manoeuvres.
After each lifeboat had carried out their individual training, the exercise was deemed to have been a great success and as the helicopter went to refuel at Newcastle Airport before returning to its base, the RNLI lifeboats returned to their station on the rivers Blyth and Tyne.
Adrian Don, Tynemouth RNLI spokesman, said: 'Our volunteer crew members often work with Coastguard Rescue helicopters when recovering casualties from the sea or vessels so it's vital that we train to make sure we get the skills and techniques right every time as there's no room for mistakes. Exercises like this are vital to ensure our volunteers are fully prepared for the real thing.
'We hope the exercise made an impressive sight for anyone watching, and perhaps they might spare a thought for our RNLI volunteer crews who will be on call 24/7 throughout Christmas and the New Year.
Key facts about the RNLI
The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.
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