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TWO fishermen had a miracle escape after their boat capsized during a fishing trip to Wigtownshire at the weekend.

Fife men Bill Hepburn and John Gowans clung to the hull of their 18ft fishing boat for 26 hours after it capsized in the mouth of Luce Bay on Sunday afternoon.

They were eventually spotted by an officer on a passing ferry shortly after 4 p.m. on Monday after drifting 15 miles south of the mouth of the Bay.

Bill (48) and John (33) both from Glenrothes, were winched to safety by the Irish Coastguard Rescue helicopter. They had been spotted frantically waving their life jackets by the officer aboard the P&O European Seafarer.

They were flown to Nobles Hospital in Douglas, Isle of Man suffering from mild hypothermia and were later discharged.

Coastguard officials have since described the episode as an "extremely lucky story". And they have put their survival down to the fact the two men were wearing immersion jackets and had a "strong will to live". A spokesman for Liverpool Coastguard who co-ordinated the rescue said

"These guys were in the water for 26 hours and still managed to survive - it is an extremely lucky story.

"I would put this down to a strong will to live although they were very well equipped".

Coastguard teams from the Isle of Whithorn and Drummore were called into action when the alarm was raised shortly after 11 a.m. on Monday prompting a massive rescue operation.

The Inshore lifeboats from Portwilliam, Stranraer and Kirkcudbright were also sanctioned together with rescue helicopters from Prestwick and Ireland and Mountain Rescue teams from Galloway and Moffat.

The two men had been fishing off the Isle of Whithorn and Burrowhead in the Machars in their 18ft white dory called Hell Raiser during a weekend break.

But the alarm was raised when they failed to return to Fife as planned on Sunday night. Their craft had last been sited off Burrowhead early on Sunday afternoon.

The Coastguard spokesman said the two men were seen by an officer on the ferry which was travelling between England and Northern Ireland.

They had roped themselves to their craft after it capsized in the hope of being found. More than a day later the captain of the ferry, Gerry Hughes, radioed the Coastguard HQ to report the sighting.

The rescue was completed by the Irish Coastguard helicopter minutes later. The captain of the helicopter, Brian Brophy said

"When we got to the boat just two feet of the bow was sticking out of the water, the rest of the hull was in the sea.

" The two men appeared to be clinging to the bow with their feet in the water".

The Coastguard spokesman said it was too early to establish the cause of the incident but added that the Marine Accident Investigation Branch may look into it due to the exceptional circumstances.

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