NEWS
09/20/2011 06:28 EDT | Updated 11/20/2011 05:12 EST

Canadian helicopter plucks three European sailors from storm-tossed boat

HALIFAX - Three European sailors plucked from a stricken sailboat off Nova Scotia called their Canadian rescuers "heroes" after a dramatic helicopter rescue Tuesday in heavy seas.

A Cormorant chopper from Greenwood, N.S., hoisted the two men and one woman from the boat at about 9:30 a.m. AT and flew them to Halifax, where they arrived wet and bruised but in otherwise good condition.

One of the boaters, Hannah Berke, said they got caught in a storm Monday night after leaving Port Hawkesbury, N.S., on Saturday on a voyage to the Azores and then Belgium.

"It was like a hurricane," she told CBC News. "The seas came from everywhere. Everywhere huge waves, huge waves, so we really couldn't steer the boat at the end."

She said the three had gone below deck to ride out the storm when the two-masted ketch rolled over.

"It righted itself again," said Berke, who is from the Netherlands. "We found ourselves right next to each other, all tumbled down, so that's why we have some bruises, but nothing broken. And then the mast snapped in three pieces."

The Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Halifax said the boat was about 105 kilometres southeast of Sable Island when the sailors sent out a distress call.

Capt. Phil Lawson, one of the chopper's crew, said conditions at the time of the rescue were very nasty.

"The vessel was strewn with downed masts and rigging and all kinds of other things," he told the CBC. "It's very dangerous for our SAR techs to go down in that kind of situation.

"We were very fortunate. We got in and we got out quickly and everyone is safe."

The status of the abandoned boat wasn't known but the sailors intend to fly back to Europe.

(CBC)