Every year search and rescue (SAR) organisations respond to thousands of emergency calls. Nowhere are the dangers posed by mother nature more apparent than when around water. 44% of the world's population live within 150kms of the coast bringing people into inevitable conflict with the elements. Statistics provided by the World Health Organisation show that 372,000 people die every year from drowning, killing more children under 15 than HIV and Meningitis. For all involved rescue on the water is an incredibly dangerous situation where circumstances can change in an instant, putting responders' lives at risk as well as those already in danger. More than anything, successful rescue operations comes down to the brave actions of individuals who put themselves at risk to save others. Through disciplined, expert preparation and cooperation the chances of success increase. When those rescuers can use specialised equipment where they need it at the time it is needed the chances of success increase dramatically.
A barrier faced by search and rescue organisations in safely fulfilling their role is a lack of effective operational capability within transitional, coastal zones and rivers. Shallow water, rocks and vegetation disable boats or damage their hulls and propellers, ground vehicles are immobilised by their weight in mud and helicopters can be too expensive to operate. This added issue for rescue teams to take into consideration in the can increase effective response times of getting in and out of the dangerous areas. This translates to an increase in dangerous situations for responders and ultimately, higher chances of outcomes ending in tragedy.
These issues are especially prevalent in mud rescue where even the lightest of people can get stuck in the mud. The dangers of sinking combined with rising tides mean the possibility of drowning is very real. In situations such as these it is not just about finding and getting to the individual, which can be tough in itself, but arriving with the correct equipment in enough time to actively free the person. For example, in one situation upon arriving Morecambe RNLI responders found two people in distress with one already surrounded up to his waist in mud. The rescue crew took 20 minutes to carefully pull the man to safety using tools such as the mud lance which used water to loosen the ground.
For these situations the correct equipment must be given so that the rescue teams and coastguard can safely and effectively do their job. They must be able to get themselves and what they need directly to exactly where it is needed without delay. For this reason, the key feature of hovercraft become crucial; it hovers. Creating lift, the hovercraft flies over land at over 30 knots in speed. Known as "Hover Height" the space in-between the hull and surface also allow the craft to clear obstacles that may get in the way such as rocks and be unhindered by mud or water. Through this a direct course of action to those in danger can be made whilst those on board prepare with all necessary resources. Using a Griffon hovercraft Morecambe RNLI were able to fly 5 miles over the bay to get to the two stuck in time. Commenting on using this amphibious vehicle Commander Harry Roberts noted that 'In situations like this, the hovercraft is invaluable. It's a versatile piece of kit that not only allows us to navigate mudflats and smaller channels to get to the casualties, but also to get as close to them as possible at the scene. It also provides a working platform that we can treat casualties on and operate from. It saves a lot of lives in this area".
A number of RNLI stations operate hovercraft to deal with these treacherous transitional environments to give the crews, many of whom volunteers, everything they need to show why they are some of the most respected lifesavers in the world.
The newest, most advanced hovercraft the 995ED has been created by putting how hovercraft are used in real world rescues at the forefront of the development process. Space for stretchers and equipment inside cabin has been made whilst outside there are large side bodies for working comfortably close to the edges of the craft. Mobility, transportability, work space and strength have been combined to create an adaptable, responsive rescue platform already in use by the Malaysian Marine Department. With half a metre of obstacle clearance the 995ED hovercraft will bring operational superiority by circumventing conventional vessel limitations so focus is put back to where it should be, those in need.
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