20th February 2019

Shipwrecks of Falmouth: Ben Asdale

One of the more recent wrecks in the area, the remnants of the Ben Asdale can still be seen today from the headland above. It’s a popular diving and snorkelling site and can – at low tide - be walked up to over the rocks.

The story

It was after transferring fish to the hold of a Russian factory ship in Falmouth Bay on the evening of 30th December 1979, that the Ben Asdale found itself in trouble.

The weather that evening was awful, with gale force winds, large waves and heavy snow to contend with. Having finished offloading their cargo the crew cast off the stern rope in order to begin moving away from the Russian vessel. However, it became entangled in the rudder, jamming their steering and leaving them unable to manoeuvre. With efforts to resolve the issue failing, the boat became parted from the Russian ship, leaving it to the mercy of the sea.

Beginning to be swept towards Maenporth Beach the skipper dropped anchor to no avail and a Mayday was sent. Soon after, the boat was thrown onto the rocks at Newporth Head, with waves brutally crashing over the deck.

News of the incident spread and soon both locals and rescue services alike were on the scene to help.

Coastguards carried Breeches Buoy equipment (a rope-based rescue device that was used to extract people from wrecked vessels) and searchlights to the clifftop overlooking the boat, setting up before connecting with the ship. However, as the Breeches Buoy made its way to the wreck – where the crew were sheltering in the wheelhouse – the Ben Asdale turned over onto her side, carrying away parts of the rescue equipment. Radio contact with the crew was lost and the deck lights went out.

Despite the weather conditions, a helicopter was dispatched from RNAS Culdrose, arriving at the scene just after 2am. Both the Falmouth lifeboat – which was taking a battering by the sea – and the coastguards illuminated the area using para flares.

Over the next hour and a half, eight survivors were winched up from the wheelhouse side windows – requiring the helicopter to come in backwards for each rescue, a daring manoeuvre that took them very close to the cliffs.

Of the other members of the crew, three had abandoned the wreck and managed to reach the shore, helped by locals, whilst three others were missing.

In the end, eleven people were saved, but sadly three men – two British and one Russian – were lost.

Take a look at the wreck below the ocean within this Ben Asdale YouTube video.