Fears that the axing of the Portland coastguard helicopter would put lives at risk seemed to be borne out when literally the day after the aircraft was retired, a stricken diver had a 90-minute wait to be airlifted for emergency treatment.
The Portland helicopter was retired on Friday 30 June after patrolling the area for 22 years, and has been replaced by a Hampshire-based regional service, however, in Saturday’s incident, it was actually a crew from south Wales that attended the scene.
According to the coastguard, both the helicopter based in Lee-on-Solent, Hampshire, and the one based in St Athan, in the Vale of Glamorgan, were out on training exercises, but that the latter was able to get to diver Marcus Blatchford ‘most quickly’. The coastguard had previously said the area would be served by a new £20m helicopter at the Lee-on-Solent base 15 minutes' flight away, with Cornwall and south Wales as back-up.
Boat skipper Ian Taylor described Mr Blatchford’s wait as ‘disgraceful’ and interrupted a commemorative event for the axed aircraft on Saturday, claiming the closure – which still happened despite a significant campaign and a 100,000-signature petition to save it – had directly led to the delays in rescuing Mr Blatchford, who hails from Somerset.
So what happened?
Scuba Diver spoke to Marcus, who thankfully has now been discharged from hospital. He explained what occurred: “We had dived HMS Delight at 59m and had a run time of 142 minutes. All decompression obligations were completed at 40/85 and upon surfacing I felt fine, letting my buddy on the lift first. When I was lifted onto the boat I still felt fine – until I came off the loop on my CCR. Upon coming off the loop, I started with a dry cough. My post-dive tea arrived and things seemed better, but then I started retching with nothing coming up. I told my buddy I wasn't feeling very good, and moments later asked for o2. Upon asking for o2, the skipper called into the coastguard and made haste north towards Portland. When we were halfway along the east side of Portland, the boat turned east (under coastguard instruction) and at somewhere past the Blackhawk, we turned about and had a helicopter over us.
“I was airlifted to Poole where an ambulance met me and transferred me to the chamber.
Things were looking good and I was told they would put me on a Royal Navy table 62 schedule. Before taking me into the chamber I went for a wee and collapsed on the way back. I was put on a stretcher and taken into the chamber and they changed my recompression to Comex Cx 30, which goes down to 30m and is a much-longer schedule, starting on 50/50 Heliox and at 20m going onto pure o2 at 25 minute intervals, followed by five-minute air breaks in between.
“I finally left the chamber at around 1am and was transferred to Poole hospital – after nearly an hour’s wait for an ambulance! – and given morphine to cope with the pain in my lungs from the high PPO2 and my abdominal pains from wrenching.
“I have been told I had a vestibular bend in my inner ear. I had a PFO check last year so know that wasn't the cause – it was just my turn! I am now pleased to be discharged from hospital and not require any further treatment – no diving for a while, though!”
He added: “I would like to thanks Ed from Skindeep and my shipmates, and all of the frontline crews from the helicopter, ambulance service, The Diver Clinic and Poole Hospital.”