A fisherman who survived the sinking of a fishing boat has told how the crew’s liferaft did not inflate when their boat began taking on water, off the Western Isles, Scotland.

The four crew abandoned the fishing boat Louisa just before she went down off Mingulay, south of Barra early on Saturday morning, but only one man made it to the shore.

Two bodies were later found, including another man who tried to swim to shore.

Maritime emergency services and police have carried out extensive searches for the missing fourth crew member.

The sole survivor Lachlan Armstrong, told the Hebrides News, that the liferaft located above the wheelhouse “gave us a false sense of hope.”

He said: “It would not inflate. We had to cut the box open with a knife and then spread out the un-inflated rubber. We filled it up with fenders for buoyancy.

“All of the four of us worked as a team together to try and make some kind of raft.”

They stuffed air-filled buoys and fenders inside the non-working raft hoping “to keep it afloat.”

But the un-inflated, semi-submerged makeshift raft would not take their combined weight, he said.

Their lifejackets kept their heads above the water as they held on to the side of the barely floating makeshift device.

The fisherman praised the maritime emergency services for their hard work during the search and rescue operation.

The mother of Mr Armstrong, Amanda Darling told PBO: ‘Suffice to say that the fishing vessel sank at anchor on a calm night with no moon. The liferaft box was rusted and would not open and then when they hacked it open as the boat was sinking fast, the liferaft itself did not inflate.

‘The four lads then laid it out flat on the wall of the wheelhouse, which was a horizontal surface as the boat was by now at a 90° angle and sinking fast, and had the presence of mind to stuff the fenders into the flaccid body of the uninflated raft. This makeshift flotation device barely supported the weight of one man semi submerged.

‘One man started to swim for land. My son and another tried to kick swim the raft with the skipper (who could not swim) semi submerged towards land but the little wind there was was blowing them out to sea. My son then swam for the uninhabited island of Mingulay in the pitch dark in seas of 7°C hoping that the other two would have more chance without his weight on the useless raft.

‘He is the only survivor. It Is a miracle he is alive. If the raft had inflated all four would be alive to this day.’

The UK Coastguard received a distress alert just before 3:45am when the fishing vessel’s emergency positioning beacon (EPIRB) was activated near Mingulay.

The search involving the Coastguard search and rescue helicopters based at Stornoway and Prestwick, the Barra RNLI lifeboat, local fishing vessels and Police Scotland.

Mark Rodaway, National Maritime Operations commander, for UK coastguard said: ‘Despite an intensive search including the helicopters, lifeboat and other fishing vessels in the area, we have been unable to locate the missing fisherman. Our thoughts are with all those involved.’

Chief Inspector Alastair Garrow, Police Scotland said: ‘At this time we can confirm that the bodies of two men have been recovered. A third man was rescued and was taken to hospital at Stornoway. He is not seriously injured.

‘A fourth man was on the boat and is still missing.

The next of kin of all the men have been informed.

‘An investigation will be carried out in parallel with the police and the Marine Accident and Investigation Branch (MAIB) and a report will be submitted to the Procurator Fiscal.

‘This has been a tragic incident which will impact on the local community. Our thoughts are with the families affected.’


Liferaft test by PBO

Liferafts on test

Watch a range of lifejackets being tested in the RNLI's lifeboat college pool.

Video – PBO liferaft test

Video – PBO liferaft test

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