‘Locator beacon may have saved their lives’

TWO men rescued after a plane crash off the coast of Jersey probably owed their lives to the personal locator beacon that brought lifeboats straight to them.

Robert Clifford, left, and Duncan Laisney talk to the media at St Helier Harbour after being rescued from a life raft by RNLI lifeboats after their light aircraft ditched in the sea off Jersey on Thursday. (Picture by Rob Currie, Jersey Evening Post)
Robert Clifford, left, and Duncan Laisney talk to the media at St Helier Harbour after being rescued from a life raft by RNLI lifeboats after their light aircraft ditched in the sea off Jersey on Thursday. (Picture by Rob Currie, Jersey Evening Post)

That was the message from Air Search director Gareth Le Page, who took off from Guernsey as part of the rescue operation on Thursday.

The crash, which took place just after 2pm, 7.5 miles off Jersey’s south-east coast, involved a red and white Piper PA 32-300.

The two men were rescued within an hour after the Jersey RNLI lifeboat was able to use the locator beacon to pinpoint their exact location.

‘If you look at the marine tracker, you can see the lifeboats left St Helier and went straight to them,’ said Mr Le Page.

‘Without that we would have only known their last known position.

‘Even though Jersey Coastguard has great software to estimate drift, they still would have been in the life raft for a few hours more and in those weather conditions it could have easily been capsized.’

Mr Le Page was in the Air Search plane that took off from Guernsey at 2.35pm to take part in the search although they were notified only minutes later that the two men had been rescued.

The plane continued to the crash site to gather photos and video footage of the area and to conduct a search of the area for any flotsam resulting from the ditching.

‘The weather there was pretty rough, with winds gusting force seven, a two-and-a-half metre swell and a powerful tide. In those conditions they could have drifted towards the coast of France,’ Mr Le Page said.

‘Generally we expect a slick of oil or some debris, but in this case there was absolutely nothing.’

‘An aircraft like that won’t stay afloat for more than 90 seconds. To land the aircraft and to manage to get into a life raft was quite amazing. They are a couple of lucky lads.’

It has been mandatory for aircraft to carry beacons since 2016. Mr Le Page understood that this one was connected to the life raft used by the two men and was activated as soon as it came into contact with water.

‘We have a direction finder on the aircraft, and the lifeboats have the same technology, which gives us a bearing to head to.

‘The beacons give out a signal on a set frequency, which can transmit a long way.

‘There are two centres in the UK which monitor this frequency and the centre in Falmouth can pick up signals from the mid-Atlantic.’

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