Video and photos: The moment Lowestoft-based boat burst into flames - minutes after crewmen were plucked to safety
13:33 15 January 2014
These dramatic photographs capture the last moments of a Lowestoft-based vessel which saw its crew being plucked to safety by an RAF search and rescue helicopter after she burst into flames.
The three crewmen of the ECC Topaz were winched to safety yesterday afternoon from a life raft after their 15m workcat caught fire about nine miles off Lowestoft.
The crew were winched to safety by a RAF Sea King helicopter from Wattisham airfield in Suffolk and taken to the James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston as a precaution.
Flt Lt Bob Dewes, co-pilot of the RAF rescue helicopter, said the vessel was still burning and the crewmen were already in the life raft when they arrived.
He said the flames and a drifting plume of black smoke were visible from seven miles away.
He said: “We winched the winchman into the life raft and he assessed the casualties. Nobody needed first aid. We winched them up and took them to hospital.
“They seemed fine and were not even wet. They had all the right kit and knew what to do.”
Flt Lt Dewes said the Sea King took about 20 minutes to fly from Wattisham to the stricken boat and was on the scene for a further 20 minutes before delivering the men to hospital and returning home.
The ECC Topaz is part of a fleet operated by Lowestoft-based East Coast Charters.
The vessel had been heading out to service a wind farm when the blaze struck. Humber Coastguard co-ordinated the rescue operation and Lowestoft’s RNLI Lifeboat launched about 1pm following reports of a fire aboard the vessel.
Fleet staff coxswain of the Spirit of Lowestoft lifeboat, Phill Corsi said: “On leaving the pier heads, we could see the smoke on the horizon from the vessel.”
The lifeboat took about 45 minutes to reach the scene, and as they arrived at the burning work cat the RAF rescue helicopter had recovered the three casualties.
Mr Corsi said: “We went to recover the life raft and debris from the area, and the vessel was still burning at this stage.”
He added with the hull still up in the air as the lifeboat crew recovered life raft and debris, the workcat sank within ten minutes.
A lifeboat spokesman added: “This is what the crew train for and it was quite a major call for us, although the helicopter had rescued the crewmen just before we got there.”
Lowestoft lifeboat brought the life raft and debris back to shore with them.
The fuel and oil on board the ECC Topaz is believed to have burnt off during the blaze before the vessel sank.
Graham Dawson, watch manager at Humber Coastguard, said: “The fire was quite severe and the crew had no option but to abandon the vessel.
“The crew had the correct lifesaving equipment and rescue resources were quickly on scene.”
East Coast Charters would not make a comment last night apart from saying all three crewmen were no longer in hospital.