A WORKER had to be winched on board a rescue helicopter and flown to hospital after he and his four workmates were tossed into the sea by treacherous waves.
The men were on a small rigid-hull inflatable boat and were trying to get to the rig, which is fixed in water at Seaton Carew.
But as they neared the structure the rough waters caused the boat to tip up and throw the men into the water.
While four of the workers swam back to shore, one managed to get on to the rig but he soon began to suffer the effects of hypothermia from the cold sea.
An emergency services operation was sparked and the HM Coastguard scrambled the RNLI and ambulances to the scene.
But the rescuers could not get to the stranded worker on the rig due to the sea conditions so the RAF Sea King helicopter, from Boulmer in Northumberland, was scrambled.
Lifesavers on board the aircraft used a winch to get the ill and freezing worker up into the helicopter before flying him to the James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough.
Two of the other four men were taken to hospital by ambulance suffering with minor injuries and effects of the cold.
A spokesman for HM Coastguard said: “There were five men on board the boat and they were trying to board the rig when the incident happened.
“They were trying to get a ladder at the side of the rig when a wave forced the boat to veered to one side and it tipped sideways and they all fell into the water with it being an open boat.”
He added: “One managed to get on the rig and he was suffering with the effects of being in the water.
“The lifeboat couldn’t get to the rig because of the water conditions so that’s why we called on the Sea King helicopter to transport him to hospital.
“The helicopter crew used a winch to get the man into the craft.
“The rest of the crew of men made their way to shore and from there two were taken to hospital by ambulance.
“They were suffering with minor injuries and the cold, non-life threatening injuries.”
The drama unfolded at around 7.50am yesterday and ended around 10am.