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Survivor tells of Louisa sinking off Mingulay

image copyrightMurdo Maclean
image captionLachlan Armstrong with his sister Dana Afrin and mother Amanda Darling

A man who survived the sinking of a fishing boat off the Western Isles has spoken about the crew's efforts to save themselves.

Lachlann Armstrong said the liferaft on the crab boat Louisa failed to inflate and he and the three other fishermen did what they could to make it float.

The 27-year-old eventually swam towards shore, which was within sight, and was rescued by a lifeboat.

Two other men died and one is missing after Saturday's incident off Mingulay.

The crewmen who died have been named locally as Chris Morrison, from the Isle of Harris, and Martin Johnston, from Caithness.

Isle of Barra's lifeboat crew have begun organising an effort to search for the missing man. An appeal has been posted on Facebook asking for volunteers from the Uists and Eriskay.

'Would not inflate'

Mr Armstrong described how the sleeping crew had woken up in the early hours of Saturday to find the boat was flooding.

He said the lifeboat was in the wheelhouse, which remained above the surface for a while as the anchored boat sank.

"It would not inflate," he said. "We had to cut the box open with a knife and then spread the un-inflated rubber out.

"All of the four of us worked as a team together to try and make some kind of raft."

image captionThe Louisa was believed to have started taking on water, forcing the crew to abandon the boat

The crew used buoys and other items in an attempt to keep the raft afloat.

"The water was so cold and we were all immersed in the water," he said.

"The raft never inflated - that's the reason why we weren't out of the water. Being that cold you know the only way you can survive is to get out of the water."

'It is heartbreaking'

Mr Armstrong said the combined weight of all the men on the raft was not helping the situation and he "made the choice to try to go for land".

"I didn't know if I'd make it," he said. "I thought perhaps leaving the other two boys with the raft they'd have more of a chance to get on to the raft themselves.

"I have no idea how I found the strength to keep going."

Mr Armstrong added: "A lot went through my mind and when I did finally reach the rocks I was convinced, I was convinced, the rest of them would be OK. To hear that they were all gone - it still hasn't sunk in.

"It's hard to explain exactly how I feel - the relief at being alive but at the same time the regrets and the sympathies I have for the families involved in the incident.

"It is heartbreaking. It will never leave me, it's just so tragic."

Mr Armstrong praised the actions of the emergency services and staff at Western Isles Hospital in Stornoway, in Lewis, where he was taken.

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