EXCLUSIVE VIDEO and PICTURES: Brixham fishermen snatched to safety
FISHERMEN who were snatched to safety as one of the biggest trawlers in the Brixham fleet sank beneath them have spoken for the first time about their nightmare.
Engineer Keith Hamilton told how he repeatedly went down into the dark and flooded engine room to try to save one of the port's best-known beam trawlers.
He said: "It was like going down into a coffin really."
The crew of the 24-metre Chloe T — the former Angel Emiel built in 1968 — have been praised for the organisation and quick-thinking which saved lives.
Holiday Home FOR SALE in Brixham, South Devon £2500 OFF any Regal...View details
Holiday Home FOR SALE IN BRIXHAM WITH SEA VIEWS over looking St. Mary's Bay beach. Come and take a look today. ONE WEEK ONLY. Facilities on site. Pools, Ents, Club, Shop. Quiet park with stunning area
Terms: Not to be used in conjunction with any other offer or with a P/X on park. Come and take a look today and own your own part of South Devon. For allot less than you can imagine!! Letting permitted
Contact: 01803 220485
Valid until: Sunday, May 26 2013
An investigation is under way after the trawler sank 20 miles off Bolt Head, south west of Salcombe.
The crew told how they all kept calm and played their part as they battled to stop the Chloe T filling with water.
Owner Dave Langdon, of Brixham's biggest fishing company Langdon and Philips, revealed that the trawler had just returned to her home port a month ago.
He joined Brixham coastguards in praising skipper Steve Mundle and crew.
And owner and skipper both highlighted the need for a coastguard station in the port.
Engineer Mr Hamilton, 47, from Swindon, admitted: "It was a nightmare.
"I was down underneath a little bulkhead.
"It was pitch black and I was up to my waist in water but you are trying to give everyone more time and trying to save the boat.
"I knew we were in deep trouble straight away when I opened the engine room door and I was met by water and steam. It was about 3ft deep on the bilges.
"After that we tried and tried. I was moving floors and kept going up and down to report to the skipper.
"The last straw was all the power going and then Steve said abandon ship.
"We might not be here it if wasn't for the coastguard.
"We all want to thank family and friends for all their support."
The five fishermen were picked up by the Royal Navy helicopter from Culdrose which was scrambled just after 4.30pm on Saturday
All five were winched into the aircraft uninjured.
An RNLI lifeboat from Salcombe, a number of fishing boats, the Brittany Ferries flagship Armorique and container ship Maersk Partas all went to the May Day call.
Skipper Steve Mundle, 39, who has been fishing since he left school, said: "The water was coming in quicker than we could pump it out.
"We lost power for the pump at one stage and we let the fishing gear go.
"We managed to get another engine going but we were still not keeping on top of the ingress of water and that's when I issued a Mayday.
"It all happened in the space of 15 or 20 minutes. We had to get in the life rafts. It was going down."
Steve praised his crew's teamwork: "Stu was organising the manoeuvring of the boat and gear. Tony got all the life jackets and life rafts ready to go.
"Keith was up and down in the engine room. Poor Rod was just out of his bed and didn't know what was going on until we threw him in the life raft."
He also praised the way their rescue was coordinated by the Brixham coastguard.
"It's absolutely ridiculous that they are closing the station," he said.
Stuart Tooley, a 29-year-old Brixham father of four daughters, said: "It feels worse afterwards. But we were all calm when it happened. We all did our jobs.
"Luckily, we had everything on our side. It was daylight. The weather was good. There were other boats nearby.
"We just want to say thank you to Brixham coastguard, the helicopter crew, all the other vessels who came to help us, our bosses Dave Langdon and Alex Philip and the people of Brixham for their overwhelming support."
Anthony Cheasty, 31, from Paignton, said: "As far as I'm concerned Steve made the right decision. It was the first ever time we had been out together but it all went like clockwork."
Rod Antwhistle, who is in his 50s and lives in Brixham, was asleep in his bunk and was unaware of the battle to save the trawler until he was woken and told to man the life raft.
Mr Langdon said: "One of our other boats, the Lady Maureen, was in the area and heard the May Day and I went straight to the coastguard station while everything was happening. It's going to be a terrible blow to Brixham when the coastguard station closes. It was so much simpler for me to be able to be there and explain."
Chloe T was the latest addition to their fleet of seven.
Mr Langdon said: "It's hard to put a value on a boat like that. All fishermen hate to lose boats but this one has sentimental value for Brixham. But the crew were my main concern.They all did really well."