LIFEBOAT crews have told of the moment a boat captain wearing just a pair of jeans and a t-shirt was pulled from the water after his boat sank off Newhaven.
The sinking of the Joanna C early on Saturday morning sparked a major search operation with boats, helicopters and planes all called in to scour the sea and shore for three missing fishermen.
An emergency beacon was sent from the boat, a 45-foot scalloping vessel registered in Brixham with three people on board, at about 6am with lifeboats being launched from several stations in Sussex to assist the vessel.
Debris from the boat was later found.
Two men, Adam Harper and Robert Morley remain missing, but emergency teams were able to locate the boat’s captain, Dave Bickerstaff from Newhaven.
Andy Bull, a volunteer crew member at Newhaven Lifeboat, was the man to spot him in the water.
He said: “After a while of searching you start to question, ‘Are we in the right place?’, while still looking and trying to visualise anything in the water that could be relevant.”
It was then that he spotted Dave, calling out to his crew-mates: “Starboard-side. There’s someone in the water.”
He was wearing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, clinging to a lifebuoy.
Lifeboat crews said he must have been there for some time, and praised his courage.
Newhaven Lifeboat Coxswain Lewis Arnold and his crew prepared the onboard casualty recovery system.
Despite perilously cold conditions, the casualty remained conscious and was successfully retrieved from the water.
Lewis said: “This is a very brave man who did exceptionally well to hold on for us, in 11 degree celsius water for an extended period.
“It was a relief to see him.”
The lifeboat, with the casualty on board, raced back to its station.
From there, he was transferred to the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton for treatment.
Search efforts involving boats, helicopters and planes continued throughout Saturday and into Sunday.
Police, coastguard and lifeboat crews were involved in the large-scale operation, as well a number of fishing vessels.
Roger Cohen, RNLI Lifeboat Operations Manager, said: “It’s been an extraordinarily difficult 36 hours here in Newhaven for the community and, especially, the family, friends and colleagues of the three men who were on board the Joanna C.
“We are deeply saddened by this shocking event.”
HM Coastguard made the decision to stand down the search efforts at 1pm.
Lewis Arnold, Newhaven Coxswain, said: “Our best wishes are with the recovered casualty and our deepest sympathies go out to the families of the two men we have been unable to locate.”