A daring RAF helicopter crew braved strong winds to rescue two men from a sinking boat off the West Norfolk coast.
Crew of the Sea King helicopter winched the men from the stricken cruise boat The Sea Lion, which had run aground on sand banks at Snettisham, during the heavy seas late on Friday night.
Helicopter pilot Flt Lt Iain Smith said the crew had launched a life raft but were unable to get into it as the boat was listing to one side and sinking.
The two sailors were harnessed and winched to the Sea King before being taken to Lynn’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital for a check-up.
The pair were moving The Sealion, which is owned by Searles Sea Tours, from its mooring at Hunstanton to calmer waters at Lynn but disaster struck at 10.30pm when their engines failed.
The helicopter crew, based in Suffolk, have been praised by Hunstanton Lifeboat and the Coast Guard.
Flt Lft Smith said: “It was quite a challenge as The Wash was unusually high and there were heavy winds.
Hunstanton Lifeboat and the coastguard have praised Flt Lft Iain Smith and his team for airlifting two men from The Sea Lion.
The men had a lucky escape when the boat ran aground close to Snettisham Sailing Club during the gale force storms on Friday night.
The Sea King was launched from RAF Wattisham, in Suffolk, after the weather prevented Hunstanton Lifeboat from setting out. A lifeboat from Skegness was also launched.
The Sea Lion, which is owned by Searles Sea Tours, sent out a distress call at 10.30pm after its engines failed while being moved from weather-battered Hunstanton to calmer waters in Lynn.
Flt Lt Smith described the scene when his team arrived.
He said: “The boat looked like it was listing to starboard and was partially flooded and beginning to sink.
“They had managed to get a life raft off but couldn’t get in it.”
The crew’s winch man was deployed from the Sea King to the stricken boat to harness the two men who were then brought up to helicopter in one go.
The winch was then sent back down for the airman.
The two men were then take to hospital for a check-up but were not injured.
Flt Lt Smith said: “The two men were particularly thankful and gave themselves a bit of a fright.”
The Sea King will be retired in 2016 and the service will be replaced by one provided by a private American firm.
RNLI spokesman Geoff Needham has praised the Sea King team for the rescue in gale force winds.
He said: “They did a great job in fairly bad conditions. That’s the sort of job the Sea King is made for. The two men had a lucky escape.”
His calls were echoed by Humber Coast Guard watch manager Mike Green.
He said: “The Sea King crew did a good job in very challenging conditions.”
The Sea Lion is still believed to be lodged at Snettisham as tides have not been high enough to float it off the sand banks.
Commodore Guy Playford said the boat was still on there on Sunday.
He said: “We would like it moved as it could be a hazard during the racing season next year.”
The boat is normally used for summertime 30-minute cruises along the Hunstanton coastline.