TRAPPED in the sail of a sinking yacht, winchman Simon O’Mahony was in danger of dragging his rescue helicopter into the Solent.
The 46-year-old had been lowered into the water ready to rescue the crew on board the 27ft yacht off the Isle of Wight.
But a staysail from the sinking boat crashed into the water and left the winchman tangled in the rigging.
With the Solent Coastguard rescue helicopter and his crewmate in danger, winch operator Dave Peel faced the agonising decision of whether to let him go.
But instead he guided the pilot to move the helicopter and thread his crewmate free.
Now the pair, from the coastguard base at Lee-on-the-Solent, have received the prestigious Billy Deacon search and rescue memorial trophy for the daring mission in April last year.
Mr Peel, 65, of Marine Parade West, said: ‘When we arrived the yacht was afloat but crashing up and down on the shingles off The Needles.
‘We felt it would be safe to wait while the lifeboat arrived.
‘But while we were watching it took a huge wave and started to sink.’
Mr O’Mahony, of East House Avenue, Fareham, added: ‘The tide was quite strong.
‘It crossed my mind to use the emergency release and then I would have needed saving myself.
‘But he got me free and pulled me up and then it was straight back down to rescue the people below who were trying to hang on to their boat. It is an excellent example of teamwork.
‘It would have been a lot worse for me had Dave not acted as he did.’
The four sailors on board the yacht were safely rescued.
The heroic rescuers were presented with the bravery award by the Duke of Edinburgh at a ceremony in St James’s Palace last Tuesday.
The trophy is named after a winchman who was tragically swept off a merchant vessel after rescuing 10 people off Bressay, in Scotland.
The award means a lot to Mr Peel, who worked with Billy Deacon for many years.
‘For me it’s a huge honour because I worked with him on and off for a long time,’ the 65-year-old said. ‘I remember the incident very well.
‘To be a recipient of that award is very special for me and meeting Prince Philip was very special.’