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Sunday, 3 February, 2002, 10:38 GMT
Crew rescued from stricken boat
Rescue teams winch the crew to safety
The crew members were winched to safety
Rescue teams have been praised for their bravery after winching 18 fishermen to safety in stormy seas.

The men were airlifted from their boat by an RAF Sea King helicopter on Saturday morning in what was described as "an epic rescue" north of the Hebrides.

However, skipper Yannick Jeog was reported missing after he was swept overboard on Friday.

The crew members, who were taken from the French vessel Le Perrain to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, were said to be safe and well.

It was an epic rescue and the helicopter crew had to work at a high rate of knots to get the men off the boat

Michael Mulford, RAF Kinloss spokesman

The rescue operation was mounted as heavy winds and rain caused problems across the UK on Saturday.

The conditions were also blamed for the death of a 38-year-old Rothesay man who had been travelling on the back of a pick-up truck.

The man was holding onto scaffolding which blew off, dragging him along the road and causing severe head injuries.

The emergency distress signal from the French vessel was received at 1930 GMT on Friday.

Calculated risk

Le Perrain, which translates as The Godfather, is adrift about 250 miles north west of the Outer Hebrides.

RAF Nimrods maintained visual contact with the vessel overnight as the ship struggled against 70mph winds and 30ft waves.

RAF Kinloss spokesman Michael Mulford said the rescue operation had been a calculated risk.

"The helicopter was operating at its absolute limits and had only a very, very short time left before it had to leave the scene," he said.

Crew members
The 18 men were airlifted to safety
"It was an epic rescue and the helicopter crew had to work at a high rate of knots to get the men off the boat.

"They only had about 15 to 20 minutes to get all the men off the boat so it was certainly a white-knuckle ride."

The crewmen, who are mainly Spanish, were winched from the vessel two at a time as the Perrain was thrown around in heavy seas.

Mr Mulford added that the helicopter's return journey to Stornoway had been helped by strong winds.

'Listing severely'

"The helicopter landed at Stornoway with just the right amount of fuel - the fuel calculation for its return journey was critical and they got it right," he said.

"The crew of the fishing boat made the right decision to abandon the vessel and now her fate is in the hands of the sea."

Helicopter pilot Flight Lieutenant Tony Gear of RAF Lossiemouth's 202 squadron, said the rescue operation had been "a great team effort".

He said: "We were right out at the very limits of our endurance.

"The ship was listing severely and coming up and down on the water 30ft at a time."

Flight Lieutenant Tony Gear
Flight Lieutenant Tony Gear
Two of the crew members suffered minor injuries and were taken to hospital for treatment.

The boat's French skipper Yannick Jeog, who was lost overboard, came from Brittany, where the vessel was registered.

Scotland escaped the worst of the weather on Saturday, and by Sunday morning only three flood warnings remained in force north of the border.

Two of these were on the River Tay, while the third was on the River Tummel downstream of the Pitlochry Dam.

Forecasters predicted that the winds would abate by Sunday, although downpours could cause flooding. The wet conditions are expected to continue into next week.

BBC Scotland's James Cook reports
"Fellow pilots praised the Sea King's crew"
See also:

02 Feb 02 | UK
Storms spark rescue alerts
01 Feb 02 | Scotland
Stormy weather hits Scotland
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