British man dies as Royal Navy helicopter rescues wife and children from capsized ship near Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria

A British man died and his family were plucked to safety by a Royal Navy helicopter after their pleasure boat overturned while sailing off Puerto Rico in the teeth of Hurricane Maria.

The 56-year-old Briton’s wife, a 48-year-old Dominican, and their two 12-year-old sons were spotted on top of the capsized vessel waving desperately for help while he was trapped underneath.

It was believed the family had set sail from Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, which was battered by Hurricane Irma less than two weeks ago, and were trying to reach St Lucia.

Their vessel, the Ferrel, was a 133ft former survey ship sued by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

It had been decommissioned in 2002 and recently converted into a pleasure boat.

US Coast Guard Rear Admiral Peter Brown said: “We initially got the call, a vessel in distress, a family of four, north of St Croix, literally in the teeth of a hurricane.

“We were obviously concerned. We didn’t ask their names and didn’t ask why they were out there.”

The US Coast Guard in Miami said the Ferrel sent out an emergency position alert on Wednesday as Hurricane Maria approached Puerto Rico.

Rescuers hoist up stranded family Credit: AP

The family then issued a distress call saying they were adrift amid 20ft waves and 115 mph winds near Vieques, an island off Puerto Rico’s east coast. Communications were then lost with the boat.

A search was launched which included the Royal Navy ship RFA Mounts Bay, the US Coast Guard, and US Navy.

The USS Kearsage amphibious assault ship, a search plane and helicopters also joined the hunt.

In the early hours of the morning a Wildcat helicopter from RFA Mounts Bay spotted an upturned hull, debris, and a life raft in the water, a Ministry of Defence spokesman said.

Three people were then seen clambering up on top of the capsized hull and waved for help.

They were winched on to the Wildcat and flown to RFA Mounts Bay where they were treated for minor injuries, before being returned to Tortola.

Captain Steve Norris, Commanding Officer of RFA Mounts Bay, said: “My ship and crew demonstrated exceptional teamwork today to save these lives and I am immensely grateful to them all for their efforts in this operation.

“It is with regret that we understand that a fourth individual at the scene is missing, presumed dead. Our thoughts go out to their family.”

The boat capsized after being hit by Hurricane Maria Credit: AP

The body of the man was not recovered and was…

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