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1981: Lifeboat crew missing after mission

VIDEO : Search continues for the missing Penlee crew members

A desperate search is underway for eight members of a life boat crew missing feared dead off the Cornish coast.

All contact has been lost with the crew of RNLI Penlee lifeboat, Soloman Browne, which was answering a distress call in treacherous weather conditions last night.

The men were giving assistance to Union Star whose crew reported engine failure eight miles east of Wolf Rock Lighthouse, south-west Cornwall.

Last contact with the Penlee crew was made last night shortly after reports it had rescued four of the eight people aboard the Union Star.

But this morning the vessel was found broken into small pieces.

Seven bodies have been recovered from the water.

The rescue attempt was taking place in winds coming from the south east at hurricane force 12, gusting to 90 knots and the sea reaching 60ft high.

Many of the crew, volunteers made up of fishermen among others, were from the close-knit fishing community of Mousehole.

Local men and those from neighbouring stations have joined a major sea and air search alongside a naval helicopter, life boats and fishing vessels.

Shock

They have been searching since the early hours of this morning and pledged to continue indefinitely despite waning hopes the men will be found alive.

The community is described as being 'numb with shock' as the Penlee lifeboat has been on station for 21 years and the crew were all experienced.

But the conditions last night were so poor that in spite many attempts a Royal Navy Sea King helicopter was unable to lift off any of the coaster's crew.

This morning the Union Star is upturned and washed ashore at the bottom of cliffs.

It is understood she launched from Denmark ten days ago and was travelling to Ireland with a cargo of fertilisers.

There is speculation the Solomon Browne may have collided with the hull of the Union Star, with many ruling out a capsize because this type of boat is subject to regular checks.

In Context

The crews of both vessels were lost and some bodies were never recovered.

Many of the Penlee crew had been socialising in the British Legion club when the alarm was raised.

Only one volunteer per family was chosen because the weather was so treacherous.

Reports suggest the Solomon Browne crew kept moving alongside the Union Star, at least twice it was thrown on the coaster's deck, and on another occasion slammed into its side.

But it appeared to move away under control and its last message confirmed four people had been rescued.

A helicopter crew saw Solomon Browne, only 50 yards off shore, apparently turn back perhaps in another rescue bid.

There was no further radio contact with the lifeboat and her lights disappeared 10 minutes later.

Posthumous awards of gallantry were made to the coxswain, crew and station and the Queen sent a message of sympathy to the bereaved families.


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