Search and Rescue crew describes dramatic rescue of Summerford sealers

Sgt. Damien Robison said he knew Sunday's rescue would be difficult just by looking at a wicked weather forecast.

5 sealers rescued from Atlantic Ocean

The 103 Search and Rescue Squadron fished 5 sealers out of the water on Sunday. (JTFA/Twitter)

He was battered and sent flying by huge waves — and the first man to rappel down from a search and rescue helicopter northeast of St. John's Sunday wondered how he was going to pull the mission off.

Crew aboard the 103 Search and Rescue Squadron Cormorant helicopter managed to pull five sealers out of the Atlantic Ocean on Sunday, battling high waves and winds.

Three of the search and rescue technicians spoke to CBC News about the mission on Tuesday. 

"I would get smashed by the wave, and then the cable would go taunt, and I'd come flying out of it, all while trying to get close to the man that was in the water," said Sgt. Damien Robison, the first technician to go over the side of the helicopter, trying to hoist up the five sealers.

Search and Rescue crew describe efforts in windy weather 1:49

After an early-morning call, the helicopter and crew arrived on scene — but felt there was no way to safely extract the crew from the boat.

Master Cpl. Anthony Bullen said the Northern Provider fishing vessel was essentially uncontrollable. With the masts, cables and other rigging on board, it was too risky to drop onto the ship.

So Robison was sent down, and the fisherman were asked to jump into the water one by one.

Crewman Lorne Hawkins answers questions after being hoisted from the ocean by search and rescue technicians. (Submitted)

"I was losing sight of the fishing boat, like there was such huge troughs and peaks," Robison said. "You go down and you have a bearing, I was constantly trying to orientate myself towards him and keep my eye on [him.]"

"It's stressful," added Bullen. "That's my partner down there. And I'm worried for his safety."

Robison said he knew just from the weather forecast that it was going to be "a nasty one." It was the kind of weather that has him hoping a call doesn't come in.

On the scene, he was focused on getting to the target.

"I knew once I made contact, the flight engineer would pay out lots of long as I had a grip on him, then they'd be able to maneuver and pull us out of the water."

Robison was able to get a grip on the first man, but he then had to switch out with the next member of his crew. He admitted some doubt crept into his mind.

"I was wondering if we were going to have enough time on scene, if we were going to have enough energy to safely be able to get all five." 

Robison had a great sense of relief when he grabbed the final man.

"We got inside and the door shuts — to know that we have all five on board safe, and that all five of our crew is safe, you can't put that in words."

The rescuers relied on some experience to plan out their methods. Bullen said they recently performed another rescue operation that also required those being rescued to jump into the water.

With the men aboard, they blasted the heat, said Capt. Nicole Lively.

Crew from the 103 Search and Rescue Squadron pose for a photo with five sealers that they rescued on Sunday. (Submitted by Dion Rideout)

The squadron is likely to be called out again soon. This year has been busy, with about 30 rescue missions since Jan. 1.

"We have to have complete faith that everyone is doing what they intend to do," said Lively. "We all trained for this together, we all know how to work as a team, and we're going to do the best that we can."

With files from Chris Ensing