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Friday, 6 September, 2002, 14:36 GMT 15:36 UK
Yacht crew plucked to safety
Injured yachtsman on stretcher
The injured crewman was taken to hospital in Iceland
Two people have been airlifted from a yacht in the north Atlantic in a rescue operation involving three countries described as "a masterpiece of co-ordination".

The yacht, Orbit 2, lost its mast in bad weather 300 miles west of Lewis about 2000 BST on Thursday, beyond the range of UK-based helicopters.

A British member of the crew is expected to spend the night in hospital in Iceland after being hurt in the incident.

The weather on Friday morning was bad with a heavy swell and 50 knot winds and was reported to be worsening.

A Seahawk brought the men to Iceland

The alarm was raised when the Mission Control Centre at RAF Kinloss in north-east Scotland picked up an emergency beacon transmission.

A Nimrod aircraft took off from the base and dropped liferafts to the crew of the American boat.

RAF Scotland spokesman Michael Mulford said that a Norwegian trawler in the vicinity was sent to assist the yacht, but heavy seas prevented any transfer of casualties.

"Coupled with that the fishermen could speak no English, so we had to call up a GP in Stavanger who could speak to his countrymen and translate for us," he said.

Refuelling operation

Two US Air Force Seahawk helicopters and a Hercules aircraft were scrambled from their base at Keflavik, Iceland, at 0600 BST on Friday.

"Even they had to refuel in mid-air four times during the rescue," Mr Mulford continued.

"The location was truly on the limit of any long range rescue.

The Canadian crew member
One of the crew members was Canadian
"If you picked a point which would be the worst place to need these services, this was it.

"It was 375 miles from Stornoway and 370 south of Keflavik. It is the most remote spot.

"But it was a race against time, the yacht was taking on water."

The two people were lifted off the deck between 0830 and 0900 BST and flown to hospital in Reykjavik, Iceland.

One of the yachtsmen, who suffered a blow to the head when the yacht's mast broke, will be detained overnight for observation.

Hand-held radio

The second crew member, who hails from Canada, has left hospital after undergoing checks.

Flight Lieutenant Steve Austin, who captained one of the Nimrods sent to the area, said the injured yachtsman was slipping in and out of consciousness during the night.

"He was able to come round enough to operate a small hand-held radio passed to him by the Norwegians," he said.

Orbit 2
The Orbit 2 lost its mast in bad weather
"He had an 8in gash on his head, and his leg was gouged to the bone.

"He must have been in a lot of pain, the boat was bobbing around like a cork in a washing machine."

Mr Mulford added: "The controllers in RCC at Kinloss are jubilant to have helped pull off such a rescue.

"At one point we had simultaneous communications with the Norwegian fishermen, the interpreter GP from Stavanger, the crews of the USAF helicopter and its refuelling aircraft, Coastguard officers in Stornoway and Clyde, plus our own Nimrod crews who were circling the yacht.

"It was pretty hairy but a masterpiece of co-ordination, and what the RAF are trained to do."

BBC Scotland's Andrew Anderson reports
"The yacht was hundreds of miles from land"
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03 Feb 02 | Scotland
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