Brixham fishermen rescued as boat sinks in 'seconds'
The crew of a Devon trawler tangled in the ropes of their sinking ship have told how they seized their "last chance" of rescue after frantic attempts to alert emergency services failed.
Speaking as they recovered from their 12 hours in a life raft, an ordeal which started in the early hours of yesterday morning, the men said they were lucky to be alive.
Stuart Greene, skipper of the Brixham-based Betty G, admitted: "It was very hairy for a while.
"We were cold, we were wet, we were huddled together on the life raft for warmth.
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"We were down to our last flare. It was our last chance."
The crew, comprising Mr Greene, 34, Joe Moore, 22, and Max Didlick, 26, were fishing about ten miles off Lyme Bay at around 2am yesterday when things started to go wrong.
The ship's nets had snagged on the seabed, then, as Mr Greene brought them to the surface, one split, causing the vessel to roll suddenly, flinging the crew off the deck.
"Within seconds we were all in the water," said Mr Greene. "It just happened so quickly there was no time to think about anything."
The life raft was seen bobbing on the water, but was still in its container as the painter line attaching it to the ship, which would normally stretch causing it to inflate, had not done so.
To add to the drama, both Mr Greene's and Mr Didlick's legs were tangled in rope, which in turn were attached to the sinking vessel.
"We managed to free ourselves," said Mr Greene. "But we had to get the painter rope cut. There was a knife in the raft, but it was dark and I couldn't get to it.
"Joe had to go back on to the boat, which was seriously listing at this point, and grab a gutting knife.
"He managed to get one and we cut the rope and jumped into the raft.
"Within two seconds of cutting the rope, the ship had sunk under water."
As the three men scrambled into the life raft, they imagined their ordeal would soon be over and a rescue helicopter was on its way.
However, they realised no-one was aware that they were in danger.
"When it was happening we didn't have time to think about things – it was just about getting ourselves to safety," said Mr Greene.
"The adrenaline took over and it was about getting into the life raft.
"Then we were floating around in a life raft and after about three hours, we began to realise the emergency beacon had not gone off.
"We launched two or three flares, but to no avail. We tried sending Morse code signals using a torch, but to no avail.
"At 9am a boat went within about half a mile of us and we tried to wave them down, but to no avail. By then, we were a bit dismayed."
As the men dozed off, Mr Greene became aware of the sound of another boat nearby.
"I popped my head out of the life raft and I could see another boat.
"We had one last flare and I fired it.
"Fortunately it came over. The crew was surprised to see us, they thought we were on some sort of exercise."
The three men were then airlifted to safety by the coastguard helicopter based at Portland.
Despite their lengthy ordeal, Mr Greene said they were all confident that they would eventually be rescued.
"It didn't cross our minds [that we would die]," he said. "We were in the life raft and we knew we would be rescued – it was just a question of when."
Fred Cargill, spokesman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, said he was glad the men's story had a happy ending.
"We are very pleased they survived this traumatic experience," he said.
"It's gratifying that another vessel spotted them and made that emergency call so that the coastguard helicopter from Portland could lift them to safety."