The Packet’s shipping correspondent David Barnicoat, the only surviving member of the Falmouth lifeboat crew that took part in the search for the Darlwyne in 1966 recalls the disaster that put Falmouth in the international headlines 50 years ago.

On July 30th 1966 England had won the World Cup Final. With the nation in a state of utter euphoria at England’s win, the following day on Sunday July 31st the 45 ft. long motor launch Darlwyne sailed from Greatwood Manor near Restronguet for Fowey carrying 31 passengers on what was to be a fun family day out.

Later that day as the Darlwyne left Fowey the wind freshened from the southwest to a force 7. When the launch failed to return to Mylor later that night the Coastguard was informed.

Apparently various people enquiring of the Darlwyne whereabouts made a series of telephone calls to HM Coastguard. The Coastguard disputed the times of the conversations held and little had been written in the duty logbooks a fact that came out in the Court of Enquiry

The Falmouth lifeboat Crawford and Constance Coneybeare launched on service at 0550 hours on August 1st under the command of coxswain Bertram West.

In the crew were Walter Brown, Arthur West, Ron Twydle, Barry Timmins, Jack Gregory, Douglas Gregory, Cyril Barnicoat and David Barnicoat.

At the age of 18, I was home on leave from a voyage to Australia and New Zealand when Coxswain Bertram West asked me to join his crew.

Weather conditions at the time were a WNW wind force 4, fair weather with good visibility. The lifeboat proceeded at speed towards Dodman point but there was no sign of the boat, wreckage or any survivors.

Then on August 4th RAF planes and RN helicopters spotted bodies in the water south east of Dodman Point.

It was day that will be etched in my mind forever. We launched on service at 7a.m. and headed for Dodman Point.

We arrived on scene at 0930 hours. A Royal Navy helicopter from RNAS Culdrose hovered quite low alongside the lifeboat with the pilot pointing in the direction of a body.

We recovered the bodies of two young girls. At the time we did not know that one of them was 17-year-old Amanda Jane Hicks from Mylor. Her nine-year-old brother Joel was never found. The other girl recovered was 14-year-old Susan Tassell, who died along with her mother, father and two sisters on the Darlwyne.

As we approached another body in the water our astern wash made it sink which was very upsetting watching it disappear slowly down into the depths. Later we went alongside the Fowey lifeboat, which transferred the body of 50-year-old Albert Russell.

On the way back to Falmouth the mood on the lifeboat was sombre. Bertram gave the order to open a bottle of rum, which was normally used for survivors, but on this sad occasion he felt the crew needed a tot.

As we rounded St Anthony's lighthouse Bertram asked us to stand to attention at various stations around the lifeboat. In the harbour the Royal Yacht Britannia anchored off St Mawes, had been dressed overall to mark the Queen Mother's 66th birthday.

As we steamed past Britannia only her White Ensign was now visible. It was dipped when we were abeam of the Royal Yacht and officers saluted the lifeboat from the bridge.

The lifeboat berthed at Coastlines wharf where the bodies were put into coffins and landed ashore to the police.

Despite a week long massive air and sea search only the Darlwyne’s dinghy was found and a total of 12 bodies.

The Court of Enquiry held at Truro concluded: “The Court is satisfied that the major cause of the disaster was the Darlwyne going on a voyage to sea when she was physically unfit to withstand the normal perils which she might expect to meet. The Court finds that the loss of the Darlwyne was contributed to by the wrongful act of default of the late Brian Michael Bown (skipper) in negligently taking Darlwyne to sea with passengers onboard when the vessel was not fit to go to sea in open waters.”

Darlwyne’s owner John Maitland Barrett was found at default for not informing Mr Bown that the vessel was not in a fit state to go to sea.

New legislation governing the licensing and qualifications of skippers operating pleasure boats was introduced.