Two feared dead as foul weather batters UK

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Two men were feared drowned and more than 30 seamen had to be airlifted to safety as towering seas and 70mph winds caused havoc in Britain's shipping lanes yesterday.

Two men were feared drowned and more than 30 seamen had to be airlifted to safety as towering seas and 70mph winds caused havoc in Britain's shipping lanes yesterday.

An RAF winchman dangled above 30ft waves to pluck 18 fishermen to safety from the deck of the floundering French trawler Le Perrain after they had lost their skipper, Frenchman Yannick Jeog, overboard 250 miles off Scotland's Outer Hebrides islands.

Incredibly, the helicopter that saved the men was not carrying enough fuel for its return journey. Its crew said they had made a "calculated decision" to use strong tailwinds to help them back to shore.

"The helicopter was operating at its absolute limits and had only a very, very short time left before it had to leave the scene," said RAF Kinloss spokesman Michael Mulford.

"It was an epic rescue and certainly a white-knuckle ride."

Meanwhile, gale force winds, high tides and driving rain wreaked havoc up and down the coastline. Another RAF rescue helicopter airlifted 16 Russian seamen to safety after their 6,000-ton cargo ship, the Kodima, ran into trouble in force nine gales off the coast of Cornwall.

The ship, which was carrying timber, was adrift and coastguards warned that it could run aground if tugs could not attach a line to her.

In Brighton, an air and sea search for a man swept out to sea on Friday has been called off. Coastguards were called when a man seen clinging to the girders of Brighton pier was swept away in conditions so severe the lifeboat could not be launched.

"The search has been stood down with nothing found," a spokesman for the Shoreham coastguard said. "It is a matter of waiting for somebody to be reported missing or a body to be found."

In Porthcawl, South Wales, a man was rescued after being swept out to sea while fishing off a stone pier.

And in Cornwall a couple narrowly escaped when their broken-down car was washed out to sea moments after they were pulled to safety.

One of the rescuers was a 14-year-old boy. Tom McFadyen's mother, Tracey Wills, said: "He was on his way to a birthday party with a group of friends when he heard a man shouting for help. He saw a car had been washed off a slipway into the sea and a man was holding it, trying to stop it being washed away. He and a lorry driver held the car while a woman in the car was pulled out. Moments later the car was washed out to sea. She says she would have drowned and that Tom put his life in danger to help rescue her.

"He's very small, but very strong and I'm very proud of him."

High winds also brought power lines down in Scotland and Wales and affected rail services throughout the country.

Seventeen passengers were stranded for two hours when a ferry was blown on to a sandbank as it approached New Haven harbour. In Plymouth, a ferry carrying 64 passengers was stranded offshore for 27 hours while it waited for force nine gales to die down before it could dock.

The winds are expected to subside today, but flood warnings remain in force, with heavy rain continuing.

The Environment Agency has issued 67 flood warnings, including severe flood warnings on the rivers Usk and Monnow in south Wales.

A spokesman said: "There's been heavy rain in the Lake District and Wales that will affect rivers over the next 24 hours and onwards."

The small town of Crickhowell, near Brecon in Powys, was cut off to traffic by rising flood water from the Usk. Hundreds of residents were left stranded.

A family of four had to be rescued by Mid West Fire Service crew after they became stuck in rising water in their car near the Crickhowell Army camp. In Cumbria three people were rescued from a car when it became submerged in floodwater.

Sandbags have been issued to flooded homes in Anglesey, and in Scotland sandbags have been placed on the streets of Perth due to the rising level of the River Tay.

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