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A ROUND-Britain yachtsman was snatched from the sea last night as winds gusted at up to 80mph.

But two other men drowned yesterday afternoon in a boating accident off Irvine, Ayrshire.

The dramatic rescue of lone yachtsman John Passmore happened 70 miles off Unst, Shetland. He had clung to the hull of his 27-foot catamaran for several hours as it was battered by 30-foot waves. Atrocious weather conditions had overturned his tiny vessel, the Lottie Warren.

He was airlifted to safety by the Shetland Coastguard helicopter and flown to hospital in Lerwick last night.

The dramatic rescue and the tragic deaths came as Scotland was battered by freak summer storms.

The two men who died set sail in a 15-foot speedboat from Irvine Harbour with two others, despite severe weather warnings.Force five winds were causing a heavy swell off the coast.

The drowned men were named as William Blair, 38, of Irvine and William Oliver, 38, of Stevenston.

William's younger brother Thomas Blair, 35, and Martin Crawford, 30, both of Kilwinning, were the survivors.

They were only half-a-mile from shore when their speedboat capsized.

The full extent of the madness of the trip emerged when the bodies of the two dead were pulled from the Firth of Clyde just 45 minutes later.

Both were wearing heavy donkey jackets and one of them steel toe-capped boots which effectively left them dead in the water.

A senior coastguard officer said: "To state this was stupid is the biggest understatement of the year. It is a tragedy for their families."

The unnamed speedboat went down rapidly after taking on water 200 yards off the shore at Irvine.

Two of the four, who were wearing lifejackets, swam out for shore. Against all odds, they made it unhurt.

The survivors, who swam ashore helped by an incoming tide, raised the alarm at the Big Idea visitor centre.

Operations Director David Mann told how he spotted the pair as they climbed a sand-dune on Ardeer beach.

He said: "I sent four staff down to help and then we directed the helicopter. Both the men were numb and in a state of shock and exhausted. It was very distressing. As seats and a petrol canister from the boat were washed up on the beach they just sat in silence.

"They would have struggled to raise the alarm if we had not been here as it is an isolated peninsula."

Last night William Oliver's shattered father told how it was his first-ever trip on the doomed boat.

William, who still lived with his parents John and Jessie, worked as a landscape gardener for the boat's owner Thomas Blair.

Mr Oliver,64, said: "I had no idea he was going out on the boat as the last time I saw him was this morning when he left for work.

"As far as I know, Thomas bought the boat recently and all the guys who were out on it worked for him. My wife and I are just so shocked by the news."

Both survivors were being comforted last night. It's understood they had turned the boat back to shore after taking on water but it was swamped by waves.

A police helicopter and one from HMS Gannet spotted a body and Troon lifeboat recovered it. The second body was found just feet away.

Fisherman Michael Bruce, 39, who has a boat at Irvine Harbour, has been sailing in the Clyde for 20 years and would not have cast anchor yesterday.

He said: "To go out in that weather in such a small boat was totally ludicrous."

The high-powered boat was lying with it's nose just visible off the shore last night as attempts were being made to recover it.

Meanwhile, rescue teams hailed Passmore's survival as a miracle.

Coastguard spokesman Neville Davis said: "This man was extremely lucky to escape alive considering the severity of the weather."

Passmore, 50, a journalist, was attempting to become the first man to circumnavigate Britain and Ireland single-handedly and non-stop. He only set sail last week. His wife Tamsin, 35, is expecting their third child in November.

Meanwhile, a major international rescue was launched after an Icelandic trawler was spotted drifting helplessly in rough seas 110 miles off the Butt of Lewis.

Hafnarey with a nine-man crew, lost use of its navigational equipment. Its mayday was picked up by a French yacht and then relayed to Stornoway coastguard.

Three fishing boats, the British frigate HMS Cumberland and a Danish frigate based in the Faroes came to the rescue.

A Nimrod reconnaissance jet aircraft was scrambled from RAF Kinloss and a coastguard Sikorsky helicopter from Stornoway also went to help. By the time the emergency services reached her, however, the captain reported the trawler was no longer in immediate danger and the crew remained on board.

The trawler was eventually escorted to Shetland where she berthed safely.

In yet another incident, Stornoway Coastguard was contacted by the yacht Bonsaii Hotel which was dragging its anchor in Lochbay, Isle of Skye.

Four people were on board, including two children. Portree Lifeboat launched and removed the two children from the craft before escorting it into Uig Bay.

The weather meant inter-island ferries in Shetland were disrupted and inland, the winds were even more severe with gusts of up to 100mph.

A Scottish Weather Centre spokesman said the strong winds were "quite unusual" for June.

But the storms will clear by Friday and be replaced by a much warmer spell for the weekend.
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Author:Aitken, Vivienne
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jun 14, 2000
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