Hovering over the frozen bodies of the two shipwrecked sailors in the small dinghy off Dalian, Hong Kong Government Flying Service air crewman Edward Li Kin-cheong immediately knew something was wrong.
'They were not moving,' he said yesterday, recalling the dramatic rescue mission in the icy seas off northern China earlier this year.
'But even worse, there was supposed to be three men in the dinghy.'
Mr Li had been on a four-month detachment training members of an airborne search and rescue bureau on the mainland when the distress signal came from the crew of a burning oil tanker on January 16.
'We were told the crew had abandoned ship after the fully-loaded vessel caught fire.'
He said 12 men were reported to be in an orange life raft, while three of the crew had jumped into a small black dinghy.
He said they quickly found the dinghy and while hovering above it could see two men lying unconscious in the bottom of the boat.
'We winched down and picked the two guys up. They were both in a critical condition ... and were later certified dead.'
The other man was not found until another boat arrived to retrieve the dinghy. 'The missing sailor was found frozen to the underside of the dinghy.'