YOUNG Brixham fisherman Joe Moore returned to a sinking trawler to help free a raft, saving his life and those of his two crew mates, an official report has found.
The Brixham-based beam trawler the Betty G sank in July last year after snagging one of her nets while fishing some ten miles off Lyme Bay, Dorset.
Skipper Stuart Greene, Max Didlick and 22-year-old Joe managed to launch and scramble aboard the life raft as the vessel started to go under, only to find it was still tethered.
"By 1.45am, the three men had boarded the life raft and were looking for the knife to cut the painter," a report by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch report said.
"From their sea survival training, they expected to locate the knife on one of the inflatable tubes near the entrance, but they could not find it.
"The younger crewman (Joe Moore) climbed out of the raft and made his way along the starboard side of Betty G to the gallows, where he retrieved a knife. He returned to the raft and cut the painter. Shortly afterwards, Betty G sank."
The report added: "The life raft undoubtedly saved the lives of the three crew, and this accident is a graphic reminder of the benefits of carrying such equipment.
"Although only recommended for fishing vessels under ten metres in length, proposed legislation intends to mandate the carriage of a life raft in the future."
The three men spent more than ten hours in the life raft awaiting rescue after neither of the emergency beacons onboard were triggered.
They fired two flares after seeing a ship 3-4 miles away but it did not respond. The next morning, an angling boat and several yacht sails were sighted, but no vessel approached them.
It wasn't until almost 1pm that they were picked up by the dive boat Blue Turtle, which alerted the coastguard.
The three were airlifted to Portland and examined by a paramedic but did not require hospital treatment and returned to Brixham the same day.
The MAIB found the Betty G had capsized "due to a significant weight imbalance between the beam trawls caused by the load in one net suddenly releasing".
It said it was "most likely that the load in the starboard net led to that net failing" but could not pinpoint the exact cause because the wreck had not been located and examined.
Investigators recommended that owner Northwest Trawlers Limited "conduct an assessment of the risks associated with the vessel's mode of fishing and, in particular, to identify and counter the risks associated with the recovery of fishing gear".
The firm should also "ensure that procedures are established and drills conducted to train crews in the actions required to deal with foreseeable emergencies on board".