Pride of Britain Awards: Somerset sailor recognised after saving 27 men from burning ship

Topic: PeopleHonours and awards Storyline: HMS Albion

Sailors led a four-hour mission to save 27 men from a burning ship in towering seas, in one of the Royal Navy's most dramatic rescues ever.

David Groves and Alex Harvey are truly inspirational - showing true grit in the face of real and immediate danger. Their ship, the HMS Argyll, was returning to Plymouth following a nine-month tour of duty in the Pacific when they received a call for help.

The Royal Navy Type 23 Frigate was travelling through a storm in the Bay of Biscay when it picked up a mayday call from the Grande America, a 28,000-tonne cargo ship which had caught fire 150 miles off the French coast.

Aboard the Argyll, Leading Seaman David Groves and Able Seaman Alex Harvey volunteered to enter the water in an eight metre rigid inflatable boat. As they were lowered into the six-metre waves, David realised how extreme the situation had become. As he explains: "One minute you could see a ship on fire, the next it was hidden by a wall of water. And the closer we got, the more engulfed we were in the smoke," says David, 32, from Taunton in Somerset.

When the pair reached the merchant ship, they faced a lengthy wait as the crew struggled to launch their lifeboat. When it finally hit the water the impact disabled the engine, leaving the craft impossible to manoeuvre and drifting dangerously close to the burning ship.

Realising lives were at stake, David managed to bring his boat nose-to-nose with the lifeboat. With Alex on the bow judging the right The pair braved huge waves in a tiny I inflatable boat moment as the two craft lurched up and down in the swell, four of the merchant crew jumped from a small hatch into Argyll's boat.

Alex, 28, from Hull, recalls: "It was rough - very rough. When the first guy jumped, I had to grab him to prevent him going overboard. I thought to myself: This is a bit hairy."

No more of the Grande America crew were able to leap between the two boats, and the waves snapped a tow rope, so David used his initiative and skill to nudge the lifeboat half a mile to the Argyll, where sailors and Royal Marines were waiting to haul the exhausted casualties to safety.

Commanding Officer of HMS Argyll, Commander Toby Shaughnessy says:

"Without doubt this was a near run thing. The conditions were on the limit for recovery, and this could easily have been a different result."

The judges spoke of their 'unbelievable courage... tenacity and creative thinking under pressure and in extreme circumstances. adding: "it's amazing that thanks to them, no lives were lost."