Leading Seaman (LS) Sally Hughes (28), a member of HMS Dragon’s ships company, has been awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal for an act of exemplary bravery whilst assisting in the rescue of 14 sailors from the Clyde Challenger yacht in February.
HMS Dragon was diverted whilst in UK waters to a position 500 miles south west of Land’s End where the yacht, which had previously competed in round-the-world races, had been de-masted in 18 foot seas and damaged further in a failed rescue attempt by a nearby merchant vessel.
LS Hughes, who joined the Royal Navy in 2009, was tasked to drive the ship’s sea boat, a 24 foot RIB.
She said: “I am humbled to have been recognised for my actions during the rescue. I was doing my job in challenging conditions and was but part of a team effort in rescuing the sailors; an action I would hope anyone would do if I were ever to be in a similar situation.”
There was no place for fear during this rescue. I had been trained to drive the sea boat and whilst the conditions I experienced were significantly more challenging than I had dealt with before I applied my knowledge to achieve the end result.”
The Clyde Challenger was taking on water and drifting further out into the worsening Atlantic storm when HMS Dragon arrived on the scene.
In the challenging sea state the sea boat and the yacht were regularly lost from HMS Dragon’s view as they dipped into the huge Atlantic swell, with the 50 mile per hour winds making it even more difficult.
Despite the danger to herself and her crewmate, LS Hughes persisted with the rescue and made 13 approaches over a gruelling two-hour period to lift the crew off the stricken yacht and ferry them back to the safety of HMS Dragon.
During one such cycle, the sea boat was swung into the side of Dragon by the high seas and the force of the impact punctured the boat and injured LS Hughes’ arm; she elected to simply switch to the reserve sea boat and continue to rescue, rather than have a shipmate take her place, a testament to her bravery and determination.
Today, 14 sailors owe their lives to the bravery and leadership of LS Sally Hughes and her sea boat team.