Nfld. & Labrador·Video

Night rescue: Sailor plucked from Tokyo Express off St. John's

Captain Matt Neri says sailor was rescued around 12 a.m. Sunday, 450 nautical miles southeast off St. John's.

Medevac operation precise, relies heavily on co-ordinating with oil production platform, Hercules aircraft

A search and rescue technician drops to the Tokyo Express container ship, off St. John's, to retrieve someone in need of medical attention. (JTF Atlantic/YouTube)

It's like something out of an action movie: a man, dressed in a survival suit, sits in a basket as it is lowered to a vessel on the Atlantic ocean.

That's the scene that played out about 450 nautical miles southeast off St. John's late Saturday night, when a sailor on board a container ship needed medical help.

Royal Canadian Air Force pilot Matt Neri says one of the biggest challenges of doing a medevac from a Cormorant helicopter is making sure everyone is co-ordinated.

"It's all about timing. Not just showing up early but showing up on time," said Neri, an air craft commander pilot with 103 Squadron in Gander.

Night time rescue off St. John's

5 years ago
Duration 0:29
The Joint Rescue Taskforce-Atlantic conducted a medevac from the Tokyo Express off St. John's on April 8. 0:29

Neri, who has been flying Cormorants since 2010, joined another aircraft commander and two search and rescue technicians to locate the Tokyo Express around midnight.

They travelled from Gander to St. John's, where they fuelled up and got rid of any non-essential gear in order to take as much aviation fuel as possible, before heading to Terra Nova, a Floating Production Storage and Offloading Vessel (FPSO).

Hercules sends flares to light the sky

"The challenges in this case was all the planning leading up to that mission to make sure the oil rig was ready to receive us, the Hercules is showing up on time at the right spot, the vessel is going to meet us at the correct co-ordinates at the right time," Neri told CBC News.

The timing has to be precise.

"If we were to take off early and the vessel was late, we'd show up there and we'd run out of fuel and have to turn all the way back home," said Neri.

Once the Cormorant reached the vessel, a Hercules aircraft hovered above and dropped flares to light up the night sky, providing Neri with a clear view of the ship below.

A crew aboard a Cormorant from Gander performed a medevac from the Tokyo Express, a container ship that was 450 nautical miles southeast off St. John's Saturday night. (JTF Atlantic/YouTube)

"Night boats are the absolute hardest," Neri said, adding clear skies paired with good weather helped him and his team.

"These flares, if positioned correctly, will not illuminate the vessel but will in fact create a horizon, so when I'm looking out the window I'm not just staring at a black ocean."

As seen in video posted on the JTF Atlantic YouTube page, two SAR techs climb in a basket attached to a rope and are lowered to the vessel below.

Once they got onboard, they evaluated the patient and hoisted the sailor to the Cormorant. All in all, it was a 12-hour shift for Neri and his team.

Neri said the sailor was then taken to hospital in St. John's for treatment of an unreleased medical issue.


Ariana Kelland is a reporter with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's.