Canadians, Chilean Receiving IMO Bravery at Sea Awards

Three honorees worked for six hours to save to Inuit hunters from a life raft that had filled with cold water, while the other pulled seven survivors from a stranded motor launch in stormy conditions.

The London-based International Maritime Organization's council will present the 2012 IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea to members of rescue crews from Canada and Chile, the organization announced June 15. Sgt. Janick Gilbert (receiving it posthumously), Master Cpl. Max Lahaye-Lemay, and Master Cpl. Marco Journeyman, crew members of the Royal Canadian Air Force's 424 (Transport and Rescue) Squadron, and César Flores Flores, a rescue swimmer in the aerial detachment of the Chilean Navy, are the recipients.

Gilbert, Lahaye-Lemay, and Journeyman saved two Inuit hunters who were stranded in icy waters near Igloolik, Nunavut, in freezing temperatures, strong winds, and 20-30 foot swells during an operation that lasted five hours in October 2011. "424 Squadron was initially deployed to investigate the situation. The two hunters were found in a life raft which had filled with cold water. They had stopped communicating by radio," according to IMO’s account. "Despite the adverse and extremely dangerous conditions, team leader Sergeant Janick Gilbert decided that a parachute jump was required. The sun had already set, leaving just 30 minutes until full darkness. Sergeant Gilbert, Master Corporal Max Lahaye-Lemay, and Master Corporal Marco Journeyman parachuted from an aircraft from a height of some 2,000 feet above their calculated release point. Master Corporal Lahaye-Lemay was able to swim to the raft where he provided assistance to the men until recovered by helicopter approximately five hours later. Master Corporal Journeyman swam until he was exhausted but, realizing he could not close the distance to the raft, finally deployed his personal one-man life raft, until he, too, was recovered by helicopter. Sergeant Janick Gilbert landed furthest from the raft and was later found floating in the sea; upon arrival ashore, he was pronounced dead."

Flores Flores was selected as rescue swimmer in the operation to rescue the crew of the motor launch Rosita V by the Chilean Navy aerial detachment from Puerto Montt, Fifth Naval Zone, at Locos islet, in stormy conditions. "In a northerly wind of 55 knots, and with gusts of 75 knots, low cloud, high waves and reduced visibility owing to heavy rain, the rescue helicopter located the launch stranded between two rocks. Large waves passed over the half-sunken launch, battering it against the rocks and causing it to shift abruptly. Despite the severe turbulence, the pilot managed to position the aircraft over the launch, at a safe height to avoid the engines being cut off by the breaking waves, and the rescue swimmer was lowered by winch," IMO relates. "Mr. Flores Flores rescued seven survivors, wounded and suffering from hypothermia. As he began raising the last one from the deck, a wave caused the vessel to lurch and the winch cable became entangled with the HF antenna and the signal mast, endangering both the swimmer and the helicopter. But Mr Flores Flores was able to disentangle the cable and bring the last survivor up safely. After disembarking the crew members, the helicopter returned to the scene immediately to resume the search, using the last of its fuel. After recovering one lifeless body, the helicopter returned to refuel, took off again and recovered another body from the sea."

The council considered 40 nominations and chose three to receive Certificates of Commendation and nine to receive Letters of Commendation. The awards ceremony will take place at IMO Headquarters on Nov. 26, 2012.

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