Plucked from Stormy Seas
A daring rescue at the remote Látrabjarg was heard around the world
On the 5th December 1947, the trawler Dhoon slipped out of Fleetwood, bound for the West Fjords area to fish.
A week later, the trawler was caught a ferocious storm. Mountainous seas, storm-force winds and blizzard conditions made it impossible to see more than a few metres and then, in the darkness, a sickening crunch. They were stuck fast on the rocks. A sailor’s nightmare.
Dawn showed the full horror of their predicament. Towering over them was a sheer cliff, 600 feet high, covered in snow and ice. Rescue looked impossible. The skipper and two crewmen were lost overboard in the storm. Twelve crew members were still alive.
Their distress call was picked up in Reykjavik and a message was sent immediately to the nearest farm. No vehicles were available. The farmers hiked to the cliff, finally finding the stricken ship and a rescue operation began. Twelve courageous men from the nearby farms, young and old set out in terrible weather. The trek was slippery and hazardous.
They set up a base on the exposed clifftop then rapelled down to a small ledge some 80 metres (240 feet) above sea level. From there, four continued down to the shore. They climbed and slid over the icy rocks for 4 km, laden with the heavy ropes and rescue gear, in constant danger of falling rocks and lashed by the spray in the bitter cold of the storm.
Arriving at the site of the wreck, they spotted some men at its stern. On the second attempt, a rocket reached the ship and the rescue began. Before darkness fell, all 12 crewmen had been rescued and 7 had been hauled up to the ledge with one of the rescuers before the tide cut them off. The remaining men spent the night on the shore where two were injured by falling rocks.
Those on the narrow ledge had to stay the night, their feet hanging over the edge, with their rescuers keeping them warm and safe.
The men were almost dead from exhaustion when they reached the cliff top where villagers had set up a tent. From there, they were taken on horseback to the farms and nearest village, where the womenfolk fed and cared for them. By now, everyone was exhausted by the hard work, the bitterly cold weather, exposure and lack of sleep.
A Royal Navy ship collected the 12 survivors who were all safely home for Christmas. The rescue team was later specially honoured by Queen Elizabeth for their successful but extremely hazardous mission.