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Ingenuity and determination of crashed airmen survive in the sea

Year 1955

Read by Roger Willoughby – Honorary Advisor and Governor, Royal Humane Society

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Beale, Ivor Laurence, (26), Petty Officer (Upper Yardman Air), Royal Navy

Stanhope Gold Medal 1955

Saved Midshipman (Air) Richard William Mile Shepherd (21), Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. In the sea 20 miles North West of Lands End.

On the night of 24th January, 1955, at 7.0 p.m., a Firefly Mk. 7 aircraft of No. 796 Squadron, attached to the Naval Observer and Air Signal School, R.N.A.S. Culdrose, crashed in the sea 20 miles N.W. of Lands End. The weather was overcast with a force of 4 (11-16 m.p.h.). The wind was S./S.W., moderate sea and swell. The pilot is missing, believed killed and salvor and saved were in the rear cockpit. On crashing the aircraft turned over and sank. Both rear cockpit occupants released themselves from the aircraft under water but Shepherd’s dinghy snagged and he had to leave it in the aircraft. Beale escaped with his dinghy and on coming to the surface, spent about 2 minutes releasing his parachute and making sure his dinghy was secure. Then realising that Shepherd was in the water about 50 feet away, without a dinghy, Beale swam to him and then opened his own dinghy. Seeing that Shepherd was injured in the head and only partly conscious, Beale pushed him into the dinghy (designed for one man capacity) and then climbed in himself over Shepherd’s legs. Beale’s action in rescuing Shepherd and getting him into the dinghy is most praiseworthy in view of the fact that Beale himself had a badly contused arm and a fractured rib, sustained in the crash. (Report of Captain W.W.R. Bentick, R.N. Air Station, Culdrose.) Subsequently in the dinghy Beale attempted to revive Shepherd with his own warmth as Shepherd’s immersion suit had been torn in escaping from the aircraft and was full of water; and, when Shepherd had revived, they took it in turns to keep each other warm, Beale having broken the seal of his immersion suit in rescuing Shepherd and so also being wet through. The following statement was made in reply to the Society’s questionnaire: Beale in delaying getting into his own dinghy in his injured condition, by going to rescue Shepherd, and in sharing his own one man dinghy with Shepherd, considerably decreased his own chances of survival and rescue.

After three hours of exposure the two men were picked up by the British Tanker Scottish Eagle. The Master of the Scottish Eagle reported: Referring back to the incident on the night of the 24th inst. I would like the attention of the proper authority drawn to the great bravery shown by U.Y. Beale in saving the life of Midshipman Shepherd. When these two men fought their way out of the aircraft it was submerged to a depth of about 20 feet and both of them were injured and badly shocked. Beale’s dinghy, which was the only one to inflate, was, after all, only a one man dinghy and how he managed to get a helpless semi-conscious man into it, in the sea and swell then running, is almost beyond understanding. He could only have managed this by jeopardising his own life. During all the time they were in the water alongside the ship, during the recovery from the water and during removal from the lifeboat to the hospital, Beale’s only thought was: For God’s sake mind his legs.

A Doctor was transferred from HMS Triumph to the Scottish Eagle. He treated the survivors for injuries, shock and exposure. The Scottish Eagle was diverted to Falmouth where the survivors were landed at 5.30 a.m. on 25th January and transferred to the Sick Bay, RNAS Culdrose.

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