Bird's-eye view of drama for ornithologist group

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 September, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 September, 1993, 12:00am

A GROUP of ornithologists who set out on a bird-watching expedition during yesterday's storm ended up witnessing the dramatic sea rescue of five injured crewmen from two stranded barges at Cape D'Aguilar.

The party arrived at Cape D'Aguilar at about 10.30 am to watch birds blown ashore by the winds when they spotted two cargo barges, anchored perilously close to rocks, being buffeted by the storm.

A member of the group, Michael Chalmers, said: ''The sea was extremely rough and the two boats looked as though they might be in trouble, so I dashed to the Telecom station nearby and got them to alert the emergency services.

''Soon after, one of the boats sent up three distress flares, so we knew that the crews themselves were worried about their situation.'' However, the barges, which had 18 mainland Chinese crew members on board, had sent a distress signal to the Marine Department earlier after they had been cast adrift near Waglan Island.

At about 11 am, the group watched from the cape as a Government Flying Services helicopter arrived to winch the injured men from the boats.

According to another member of the bird-watching group, Ian Jackson, the most dramatic moment came as a man was being winched into the helicopter from the front of one of the boats.

''We could see him swinging wildly on the end of the rope as enormous waves were crashing over the rocks,'' he said.

''I really just came along for the ride this morning, but it has turned out to be quite an adventure.'' Five injured men, accompanied by a member of the barge crew, were taken to Queen Elizabeth Hospital where they were reported to be in good condition. They were said to have suffered minor cuts and scratches.

The remaining crew members stayed on board the barges to ride out the storm.