Search and rescues improved following death of coastguard winchman

HM Coastguard winchman Billy Deacon died on November 19, 1997 after saving the lives of 15 stranded crewmen.
HM Coastguard winchman Billy Deacon died on November 19, 1997 after saving the lives of 15 stranded crewmen.

The courageous efforts of a north-east helicopter winchman have been remembered on the 21st anniversary of his death.

HM Coastguard winchman Billy Deacon, of Ellon, was washed overboard after being lowered onto a boat in wild conditions to rescue a stricken crew off the Shetland Isles.

On November 19, 1997, Mr Deacon was lowered down onto the Green Lily after it suffered engine failure 14 miles off Bressay, leaving the crew drifting toward the rocky shoreline in extreme winds.

Five crew members were initially rescued by the Lerwick lifeboat, but 10 men were still on board when Mr Deacon was winched down alone to get them to safety.

He hoisted the men aboard the helicopter two at a time, but as the vessel became stranded on the rocks the father-of-two was hit by waves and washed overboard.

His tragic death at the age of just 50 sparked a major review of how search and rescue operations are carried out – with the new procedures still used today.

Bristow Group has since designed a dual hoist, which has now become a standard piece of SAR equipment across the industry.

Damien Oliver, assistant director for aviation at the Maritime Coastguard Agency said: “Billy Deacon lost his life while saving the lives of others. It is a heroism that brought about a widespread and enduring change in the way in which we conduct search and rescue operations, and his ultimately immeasurable dedication to the saving of lives his colleagues continue to apply to our service today.”

Ian Harms, coxswain mechanic for Lerwick Lifeboat said the rescue operation would “always be remembered” by the crew.

“It’s appropriate that these improvements are being discussed on the 21st anniversary of the sinking of the Green Lily and the loss of Winchman Bill Deacon.

“It’s a rescue that will always be remembered by the crew at Lerwick.

“Bill’s actions that day undoubtedly saved lives and it’s a fitting tribute to him that we see these improvements made.”

Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grand has lodged a motion in parliament recognising Mr Deacon’s heroism.

She said: “It is only right and proper that we remember such hero’s in society.”