"It's the most dangerous situation I've ever been in," Duran Duran frontman Simon Le Bon said.
The Cornwall-based 771 Royal Naval Air Squadron is being commemorated by the BBC in a documentary to be aired prior to its decommissioning tomorrow, 22 March.
Among other rescues, the group saved Duran Duran singer Simon Le Bon, 57, after his race yacht Drum lost its keel and capsized near Falmouth in Cornwall in 1985.
Trapped in the overturned yacht for 40 minutes with seawater rising around him, the Duran Duran frontman said that he “looked into the eyes of death,” as he awaited rescue.
When he heard the sound of a helicopter through the hull of the 71ft yacht that he and a team of 25 others had been racing in the 1985 Fastnet race, he knew he was saved.
The singer made the comments as he watched footage of his rescue for the first time as part of the BBC Documentary about the helicopter crew from the 771. The 771 Royal Naval Air Squadron rescued an estimated 15,000 people during more than 60 years of service.
In Rescue 193, Le Bon paid tribute to his rescuers, saying: “These are guys who face extraordinary danger on a daily basis. I am grateful to 771 Squadron for saving my life, for saving the lives of the other guys on Drum.”
Rescue diver Larry Slater from the 771 Sea King helicopter was the squadron member who swam under the boat into the small air pocket where Le Bon and four others were trapped and led them to safety.
Le Bon nearly didn’t make it out of the ordeal alive, however, as he explains: “I had to go down to come up. I dived in and started going up – as I came up the waistband of my long johns got caught and pulled down.
“As I came up to the surface I stopped about 2ft away. I wanted to breathe but if I did I knew that would be the end of me.
“I managed to get them off my feet and came up with a big smile on my face.
“I got winched off into the helicopter and one of the guys called ‘Hey Simon, where’s your pants?’ because I was just stood there in my knickers.”
Rescue diver Slater received the George medal for bravery for his effort – one of five the squadron earned as part of recognition for its service that includes 15 Queens Gallantry Medals.
Other rescues in which the 771 took part include the 1979 Fastnet race disaster, in which more than 70 boats capsized and 19 sailors died.
The Royal Navy will hand life-saving and rescue over to a commercial operator managed by the Coastguard from 22 March.
Rescue 193 airs tonight (21 March) at 7:30pm on BBC One.
American sailor Steve Shapiro, who was rescued nine times in seven months, has now sold his yacht.
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