Rescue Training at Ruegen Coast: Helicopter Crew Lifts Passenger Off "Schwedenfähre"

It happens shortly after departure from the ferry pier in Mukran: Mariyan Stoev has just announced the departure of the catamaran "Skane Jet" in the direction of Sweden to the Sassnitz port authority by radio, when the young captain reaches for the radio again: There is an emergency on board! A passenger has been injured. His colleague, Chief Officer Marcel Eilert, grabs the bright red canvas backpack hanging on the bridge and rushes into the passenger area with it. He knows the supposed patient lying on his back in front of the stairs well. It is his colleague Hauke Nickelsen, operations manager of the FRS Baltic shipping company, which operates the ferry line between Mukran and Ystad in Sweden. This Saturday, air rescue is to be practiced.

No passengers below the afterdeck

Not only Marcel Eilert and the rest of the crew are in the loop; the passengers on board know about it, too. "We communicated this in advance on our website and during bookings," says the managing director of FRS Baltic and, on this day, also a presenter. With a microphone in his hand, he stands on the passenger deck and explains to the travelers what is going on. Right at the beginning of the crossing, he had asked the passengers to gather in the front part of the deck. Not only to be able to follow the events better. The helicopter will later hover in the air above the rear section. If there is an accident during the operation and something falls onto the deck, it could be dangerous for the passengers sitting below.

Rescue helicopter takes off from Güttin

Marcel Eilert has meanwhile inspected the alleged fracture. It looks like a serious injury, he informs the captain on the bridge by radio. He decides quickly and answers in English: "Okay, I'll call the helicopter." Managing Director Bruns looks at his watch: 12:41 p.m., he announces over the microphone. "Let's see how long the helicopter takes." It's stationed in Güttin. This is one of three locations of the company "Northern HeliCopter," which flies rescue missions at sea. There are several hundred of them a year on the North Sea and Baltic Sea. In 2020, there were a total of 65 from Güttin, and also somewhat fewer than usual at the other two locations in Emden and St. Peter Ording. At Corona times, there is also less activity on the water.
After a little more than twelve minutes, the passengers crowd the windows facing the quarterdeck. First the hum high up in the air can be heard, then a small dot that quickly gets closer. Only two or three photographers are allowed outside on deck now. They wear harnesses that connect them to the railing. "The rotor blades generate a downdraft of up to force eight to nine during the approach," Moritz Bruns explains this precaution. Anyone standing unsecured underneath could literally be swept off the deck.

Specialized in air rescue

This also applies to emergency physician Rolf Engel and emergency paramedic Jan Gartemann. The latter is a medical-technical crew member of the rescue helicopter and specializes in such missions. The wind is blowing at 15 knots, which corresponds to about force four to five, from the northeast as the helicopter hovers about ten meters above the catamaran. As the doctor and his assistant are lowered from the helicopter onto the ship via winches, they immediately shackle the harnesses of their suits in a specially designed rope stretched over the aft deck and rush to the cabin door. The chief officer, who with the support of his colleagues has in the meantime carried the "patient" on a stretcher to just outside the door, briefly describes his condition. Then the medical professionals take over.

Short-term anesthesia for the way to the clinic

"Can you move your fingers?" "Which finger do I touch now?" When did you last eat something?" Hauke Nickelsen plays the injured man with bravura, lies on the stretcher with an expression of suffering and nods weakly and briefly as the emergency doctor explains to him what happens next. The "patient" probably suffered a forearm fracture in the fall. The resulting deformity must be surgically corrected as quickly as possible - which is why the "casualty" is being taken by helicopter to the nearest hospital. Until then, he would receive a drip and a strong, short-acting painkiller. "Something like a short-acting anesthetic for 15 minutes," explains Rolf Engel. A special harness is carefully put on Hauke Nickelsen. Then it's off to the outside on the stretcher.

The medics on deck have kept in touch with the helicopter crew via their radiotelephone and have called them in again. The pilot and his co-pilot turn laps over the Baltic Sea in the helicopter at some distance from the ship. The helicopter is supposed to be above the catamaran only when it is really necessary. In the event of an engine problem, where parts of the helicopter or the entire aircraft fall from the sky, the ship's passengers would be safer. "But don't worry," Moritz Bruns reassures passengers like a cruise director, "a helicopter like this has two engines and can also fly with one if the worst comes to the worst - if the wind conditions are favorable."

Hoisted in tandem to a height of ten meters

It's not always as calm as it was on this day on the Baltic Sea. Jan Gartemann and his colleagues had recently rushed to the aid of a crab fisherman in the North Sea. Things were much rougher there. The catamaran, which rocks restlessly despite only a slight swell, is an easy and simple location for the rescuers to reach from the air compared to a small crab cutter. In tandem, the emergency doctor takes the "patient" on board in a harness. The helicopter turns away briefly and heads for the catamaran again. "We have to get our Hauke back on board after all," the shipping company managing director explains the maneuver.

After the exercise to the buffet

This time, the exercise is rehearsed at normal cruising speed. While the ship was pretty much stuck in position during the first approach, the captain is now stepping on the gas. "34 knots," says Mariyan Stoev after glancing at the instruments. That's about 62 km/h. And it works this time, too: Hauke Nickelsen is released "cured" from the helicopter back on deck, and the emergency paramedic is hoisted aboard the helicopter. Then the flying rescuers disappear in the direction of Rügen - and the passengers of the ferry go back to their seats or fortify themselves at the buffet. With a delay of just under half an hour, they reach the southern Swedish coast near Ystad.

When the "Skane Jet" leaves them again in the direction of Rügen, it is raining. Nevertheless, there is a glow over Moritz Bruns' face as he stands on the bridge. "I am very satisfied," he says. "It worked out great, even if there are still a few little things here and there - as always - that can be done better. We'll save that for next time," he says with a wink.


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Maik Trettin (Ostsee-Zeitung)
Foto: Nico Offermann