A Royal Navy helicopter on a training flight stood ready to act as a trawler crew abandoned their sinking boat off the coast of Cornwall yesterday evening.

Sennen Cove Lifeboat ultimately rescued the crew-of-four as their Belgian fishing boat rapidly sank beneath the waves south of Land’s End.

The alarm was raised at around 6pm by the trawler’s skipper.

Sennen’s RNLI volunteer were scrambled by Falmouth Coastguard following a mayday call from the 24-metre fishing vessel taking on water approximately two miles south of Porthgwarra.

The Tamar class all-weather lifeboat 'City of London III' launched at 5.55pm with seven RNLI volunteers, under the command of Coxswain Ollie George. The coastguard rescue helicopter was also sent. The lifeboat arrived on scene around 6.12 pm, finding that the four-strong crew had taken to their life raft as the fishing boat was low in the water and clearly sinking.

With the main lifeboat unable to approach safely, due to her trawling beams being out, the volunteers launched the smaller Y boat and rescued the fishing crew from the life raft.

Writing on Sennen Cove Lifeboat Station’s Facebook page afterwards, a spokesperson said: “Being wet and cold, the coxswain decided to take the casualties, immediately, to the safety of Newlyn harbour for further assessment.”

Arriving at Newlyn at 7.05pm the four crew members were passed into the care of Penlee Lifeboat Station, HM Coastguard and the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea fishermen.

The lifeboat then returned to Sennen Cove for around 9pm.

A Merlin Mk2 helicopter based at RNAS Culdrose had also been in flying in the Mount’s Bay area when the call came in, and had been poised to help if needed.

Lt Cdr Steve Thomas, the senior pilot of 824 Naval Air Squadron, said: “We were conducting an initial training sortie for a student observer, focusing on the operation of the helicopter’s radar and mission system.

“We were alerted to the incident in progress and dialled up the distress Channel 16 to hear Falmouth Coastguard coordinating the effort to reach a fishing vessel not far off the coast, south of Land’s End.

“Sennen Lifeboat was reaching the scene at that point and it was clear that the fishing vessel was in a poor way.

“The Belgian skipper was on the radio to the lifeboat and was being encouraged to get himself and his three crew into their life raft as the vessel was sinking rapidly.”

Falmouth Packet: City of London III on the slipway after the rescueCity of London III on the slipway after the rescue (Image: Sennen Cove Lifeboat Station)

Around 15 mile away at the time, and aware that the coastguard rescue helicopter was enroute, but not yet arrived, Lt Cdr Thomas informed Falmouth Coastguard that they were on their way to the scene to help if needed.

“When in the overhead, we monitored what was happening but there was not a great deal for us to do – the crew were now in their life raft and Sennen Lifeboat was collecting them.

“We witnessed the fishing vessel continue to rapidly sink. It became clear that the brave men and women of the RNLI had everything under control,” he added.

“There was good cooperation and we were able to provide overwatch in case things did not go well for the crew when abandoning ship.

“We called Falmouth Coastguard to explain we were leaving the scene, but could be recalled if required. We then completed the remainder of our planned sortie.”