The award assessment panel committee has endorsed that Aviation Survival Technician Christopher Leon deserves the IMO rescue award given the act of bravery he performed displaying outstanding courage attempting to save the lives at sea, at the risk to his own life. They have also endorsed the decision that the other two crew members of the rescue helicopter team CG-6531, Lieutenant Scott Black and Aviation Maintenance Technician Michael Spraggins, should both receive a Certificate of Commendation for their part in the rescue.
The course of events that took place leading to the nomination of Mr. Leon is narrated in brief as follows:
On the night of 20-21 June ‘2014, ocean rower Britannia with four people on board was taking part in the Great Pacific Race between Monterey in California, and Honolulu in Hawaii. It was positioned at around 60 miles offshore Monterey, California when the vessel began to take on water. The conditions that prevailed were 30 knot winds and 15 foot waves.
The support rescue vessel could offer no support given the turbulent weather conditions therefore a rescue helicopter CG-6531 with a 3 member rescue team arrived at the scene.
Mr. Leon battled darkness, lack of visual cues, the horrific waves and wind to swim toward the nearly submerged Britannia with its 4 stranded crew. Using a rescue basket lowered from the hovering helicopter, Leon proceeded to rescue one survivor after another in the turbulent, frigid waters. By the time the third survivor was hoisted to safety, the helicopter ran out of fuel and had to turn back for refuelling. Mr. Leon opted to stay back in the now drifting Britannia to remain near the last survivor who was in shock and was hypothermic. Mr. Leon huddled over with the survivor in the tiny bow portion of the vessel that remained above water, while the rest of the vessel was close to submersion. In the two hour wait for return of rescue team, Mr. Leon continued to protect the survivor in pitch darkness and worsening weather conditions till the rescue team arrived and delivered the final survivor at Monterey Airport for emergency medical treatment.
The council also decided to felicitate 27 other nominees for the rescue award, with letters of commendation. The council endorsed the Secretary-General’s proposal that merchant vessels involved in rescue operations would be given special recognition. This would be a separate activity of the IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea.
The Awards ceremony is expected to take place at IMO Headquarters, on Thursday, 9 November 2015, at the end of the first day of the IMO Council’s 28th extraordinary session.