Two injured crew members on a dismasted and holed British yacht were airlifted to safety today in a dramatic dawn rescue.
They were winched on board one of two long-range United States Air Force Sikorsky CH-3E helicopters, known as Jolly Green Giants, which were scrambled to help the crew of the stricken 65ft yacht Persuader.
The vessel, en route to the UK from the Caribbean via the Azores, ran into trouble in ‘‘atrocious’’ seas and gales 480 miles south west of Land’s End.
The yacht, believed to registered in Guernsey, was too far from the UK to send RAF rescue helicopters based in Cornwall, so coastguards co-ordinating the operation called in the US aircraft based at Mildenhall in Suffolk.
Coastguards wanted to get two of the seven people on board the yacht into hospital for check-ups as quickly as possible.
The emergency beacon belonging to the yacht began transmitting on Tuesday. Falmouth coastguards established that the beacon was lost overboard when the vessel was dismasted.
Medical advice was sent to the yacht’s skipper on how to treat the injuries suffered in the dismasting - suspected broken ribs and internal injuries.
The crew had cut away the mast and were making for landfall at Falmouth, Cornwall, at a speed of just five knots. The vessel was also holed, but her pumps were holding the ingress of water.
An RAF Nimrod aircraft from RAF Kinloss in Scotland remained on the scene and in contact with the crew. The two US helicopters were supported by an RAF Hercules refuelling aircraft.
One of the helicopters reached the yacht at around 5.30am and winched the two injured crew members on board, a coastguard spokesman said.
It was returning to the RAF base at St Mawgan, Cornwall, where it was expected to arrive at 9.30am. The two crew members were expected to be transferred to Treliske Hospital in Truro for treatment.
The five other crew decided to stay on the yacht, the spokesman said.
Sikorsky CH-3E helicopters were dubbed Jolly Green Giants by American soldiers during the Vietnam war. They have a range of 779 miles and were used in rescue missions in north Vietnam and Laos.