Briton killed as gales hit yacht off France

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A Briton died yesterday after a yacht capsized in gale-force winds in the Atlantic off the coast of France.

A Briton died yesterday after a yacht capsized in gale-force winds in the Atlantic off the coast of France.

The 23-year-old Scottish man's 40ft boat was floundering in the Bay of Biscay near the coastal town of Les Sables d'Olonne at about 2am local time. A Navy helicopter plucked a 24-year-old British man and a 17-year-old from Holland, who had also been sailing the boat, to safety after receiving an automatic distress signal that was triggered as the boat overturned. But the third man was discovered to be dead when he was pulled from the water.

The two survivors were taken to hospital in nearby La Rochelle, suffering from shock and hypothermia, the French coastguard said. The English survivor had to cling to the hull of the boat as he and the other survivor awaited rescue in the rough ocean.

French rescue officials said that the boat had been travelling from England to Tenerife, with the two survivors working as hired transporters who were sailing the yacht to the Caribbean for a client.

The yacht capsized as winds of 80mph lashed the French coast overnight. Some reports suggested that the boat had run aground, after heading out to sea that evening into the gales.

Vincent Castin, a regional rescue worker, said: "These were not the kind of conditions that one should be heading out to sea in." French police are investigating the matter.

French rescue services said that the dead man had been identified from his passport, after some earlier confusion in which it was thought that he was from the Netherlands. A spokesman for the Foreign Office said last night: "A British national was killed in the accident, and his next of kin have been informed.An English man and a Dutch man are receiving medical attention."

Dumfries and Galloway police said the vessel, the Reliance AC, was registered to an owner in the Castle Douglas area and they would be contacting him as soon as possible to establish exactly who was on board. It is thought that the dead man had sold the boat to a buyer in the Caribbean, and that he was sailing it to the new owner when the accident occurred.

A spokesman for the French rescue services said: "We do not know what happened but the weather conditions were very, very bad. The boat is very modern and is 12 metres [in length] so we do not know how this happened."

French police were last night waiting to interview the survivors for details of the accident. They are being assisted by the Falmouth coastguard and police in Scotland.