Australian rescuers get bravery medal for rescuing Russian sailor

Location of rescue
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Australian rescue workers who plucked a Russian sailor from rough seas east of Victoria last year are recognised for their bravery and have received the Victoria Police Medal for Courage.

Solo sailor Sergey Zhukov, 47, was on a round-the-world voyage and had successfully rounded the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Leeuwin, but in trying to negotiate the shallow waters of Bass Strait his yacht lost its mast in 10-metre waves, 120 nautical miles off Mallacoota. He activated his emergency beacon, triggering an emergency response from search and rescue teams.

Constable Peter Dillon and Leading Senior Constables Mark Weekley and Bradley Pascoe flew their police chopper through treacherous weather to winch the sailor to safety.

After the rescue Constable Pascoe described the rough conditions. 'Conditions going out were like none I had ever seen before,' he told news reporters.

'They were as windy and as rough as I had been in, and once we had gone overhead we had a couple of minutes to assess whether we would conduct the rescue. Once that decision was made we had a couple of contingencies put in place.'

He said they had to move quickly.

'We had 20 minutes overhead, and we used up 15 minutes, so we were literally a minute or so from having to abort the rescue and head back in land to refuel,' Constable Pascoe said. 'The winch operator had to pull me up and down the winch wire by 30 to 40 feet, adjusting my height to make sure I stayed clear of the waves and the boat.

'Eventually he managed to get me into the water, right next to the front of the boat. I had a moment to grab Sergey's arm and then the boat fell away from us.'

The team touched back down on dry land with only five minutes of fuel left in the tank. The yacht was abandoned, but was holed and expected to sink quickly.

Sergey Zjukov had built his own 24ft boat and sailed it across the Atlantic twice before setting off from Portugal on a solo round-world journey.

While most other solo sailors go south of the South East Cape in Tasmania, Sergey Zjukov chose to visit the coastal town of Portland and then go through Bass Strait, between Tasmania and the mainland of Australia - shorter and not as far south as the Southern Ocean route.

But Bass Strait is dreaded by Australian sailors in stormy conditions, because of its shallow water which whips into short high seas. Hit with a storm during his passage, he fought the storm for two nights without sleep, carefully guiding his tiny sailing boat.

Finally he had taken a nap but without his help the boat had broached, the mast snapped, and the hull began to take on water. He realised that it was time to call for help and let off his EPIRB.

However, the rough - nine metre - seas prevented any vessels and most aircraft from getting to the solo yachtsman on Friday with his rescuers on board a Victoria Police helicopter battling the high breaking waves and low fuel to save him.

They were running out of fuel when the police rescue helicopter located Mr Zhukov, father of three, in his holed yacht 110nm south of Mallacoota on the south east coast of Victoria

Sergey says thank you after dramatic rescue
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Mr Zhukov said he understood the operation was dangerous for all involved and called Senior Constable Pascoe 'a real hero'.

The search and rescue mission was co-ordinated by Australian Search and Rescue with the assistance of Victoria Police's Airwing and Water Police members from the Rescue Coordination Centre. The Royal Australian Navy also assisted in the rescue.