Pendle Army officer honoured for saving lives after Haiti earthquake

Captain Chris Heyworth

Captain Chris Heyworth

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AN Army officer from Pendle has won a major national award for his role in saving countless lives after the Haiti earthquake.

Captain Christopher Heyworth, who serves in the 17th Port and Maritime Regiment of the Royal Logistics Corps, won the annual Annual Engineer And Logistic Staff Corps Award for 2010.

On January 12th last year, Haiti was struck by an enormous earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter Scale.

During crisis planning, it transpired the aid effort would need considerable help from the Ministry of Defence – principally the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Ship Largs Bay, and the 17th Port and Maritime Regiment.

And that was how Capt. Heyworth ended up playing a key part in rescues.

On February 3rd, the RFA Largs Bay set sail for the Caribbean on Operation Panlake. On board was a 40-strong Port Task Group, commanded by Capt. Heyworth, comprising specialist soldiers in logistic watercraft operations, underwater port reconnaissance and clearance.

His citation said: “By dint of his specialist training, Capt. Heyworth became the focal point for the cross-departmental effort.

“Having already fronted a high-profile media event, he was assigned by the captain of Largs Bay to assist the ship’s executive officer in planning a complex ship-to-shore humanitarian aid distribution operation.

“Faced with destruction on an epic scale, Capt. Heyworth established himself as the key interlocutor and facilitator – the person you had to consult. His expertise was now actively sought by the ship’s executive officer, the World Food Programme, DFiD, the UK’s Permanent Joint Headquarters and the US Marines. His input directly shaped and influenced the course of events and the manner in which aid was to be distributed.”

With a plan agreed, his Port Task Group was the focal point of the UK’s effort.

One of the more defining acts of benevolence involved the fishing village of Anse-au-Veux. Cut off and with no life support whatsoever, the situation was desperate.

The citation added: “A prior reconnaissance had established the means of entry were at the very operating limits of the mexeflote.

“The risk of failure would have proven disastrous, a combination of high sand banks, strong tides and a narrow approach risked grounding the craft. Having considered all the options, Capt. Heyworth took the decision to act, knowing many hundreds of lives depended upon him getting through.

“With no room for error, the mexeflote made its way up the narrow waterway, successfully reaching the village of Anse-au-Veux.”

Capt. Heyworth, along with the village priest, marshalled the locals, his own soldiers and the World Food Programme into a human chain to moves tonnes of life-saving meals, beans, oil and soya-boxes ashore.

The citation concluded: “Capt. Heyworth’s contribution and leadership during a period of extreme humanitarian need was crucial, the conviction and initiative he displayed saved countless lives and contributed decisively to the UK’s efforts. For this reason, he is awarded the Engineer and Logistic Staff Corps Prize.”