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Award for Royal Marine commando who risked his life trying to save migrants at sea

22 May 2017
A Royal Marine who risked his life to save dozens of migrant children thrown into the sea during a savage storm has been awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Bravery.

Marine Mark Wheeler tried resuscitating two children who had been plucked from the water while his own rescue boat became pinned against rocks and was at risk of capsizing.

It happened off the coast of the remote Greek island of Farmakonisi

The 27-year-old was thrown against the side of the rigid-hulled inflatable boat (Rib) during the rescue ordeal, injuring his shoulder but carrying on regardless.

“I had a child in each arm and just carried on giving them CPR while trying to hold them inside the boat,” Mark said.

“It was pitch black and the storm was unlike anything I had ever been in before. All we knew is that there were people in the water. A large wave picked us up and threw us onto the rock – our boat was literally on its side.

“The rocks were like swords. If we had fallen in to the sea, I have no doubt we would not have survived.”

 

The two children Mark tried to resuscitate were among 16 migrant women and children who died during the ordeal on a rocky shoreline of the remote island of Farmakonisi in January 2016.

Mark was deployed as part of the force protection team based on the MV Vos Grace, a vessel chartered by the UK Border Forces to assist the mission to counter people trafficking in the Aegean Sea.

While conducting search and rescue duties, the Vos Grace responded to reports of a migrant vessel that had capsized and then disintegrated while attempting to land along the treacherous coastline.

The migrants, all women and children, were in extreme peril from the exposed rocks and severe sea states.

Mark Wheeler, working as part of a joint Royal Marine and Border Force team, demonstrated “considerable courage by immediately joining the launch of two rescue craft,” his citation read.

His vessel was picked up by a large wave and thrown onto rocks, suffering a loss of power and becoming in danger of capsizing. Mark was thrown across the boat by the impact, injuring his shoulder and suffering a temporary loss of feeling in his hand.

The citation said: “Abandoning all thought of his safety, demonstrating extraordinary courage and fortitude, Wheeler dragged drowning children into the boat with his good arm, even having to resuscitate a child on the deck until help arrived.

“Testament to his exceptional courage, Wheeler volunteered to go straight back out and refused medical attention until the task was complete. Wheeler demonstrated an entirely selfless humanity and commitment to saving the migrants’ lives and is utterly deserving of national recognition.”

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