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Mourners take part in silent march to commemorate rescuers killed in lifeboat operation

People take part in a white march on June 10, 2019 in Les Sables-d'Olonne, in tribute to three rescuers killed on June 7, when a SNSM vessel capsized in rough seas as a giant storm pummelled the country's Atlantic coast.
People take part in a white march on June 10, 2019 in Les Sables-d'Olonne, in tribute to three rescuers killed on June 7, when a SNSM vessel capsized in rough seas as a giant storm pummelled the country's Atlantic coast. SEBASTIEN SALOM-GOMIS / AFP

Fifteen thousand people took part in a slow, silent procession on Monday in the beach town of Sables d'Olonne to pay tribute to three rescuers killed during a rescue mission. The volunteers had set off to help a fishing boat in wind-whipped waters before their vessel overturned. Three died, while four managed to swim to shore.

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Crowds poured onto the beach resort town of Sables d'Olonne in Vendee on Monday to pay tribute to three volunteers who died when their vessel capsized, pummelled by a giant storm that hit the country's Atlantic coast.

The team from the National Society of Sea Rescue (SNSM) had been attempting to help a fishing boat, which was struggling in the giant swell caused by Storm Miguel before their vessel overturned on 7 June.

Carrying white flowers, mourners lined the beach from 10:30 (GMT) to pay their respects, while sea rescuers dressed in orange, marched with a large flag bearing the logo SNSM.

Meanwhile, a large flotilla of boats was equally on display to honour the memory of the three volunteers killed and a minute of silence was observed.

Seven volunteers were on board the National Society of Sea Rescue vessel when it capsized.

Three of them died while four managed to swim to shore.

Saving lives

The three victims were aged 28, 51 and 55 years respectively, and all were experienced sailors.

Maritime officials said the crew was using one of the SNSM's "all weather" vessels, especially designed to be unsinkable and able to automatically right itself if overturned.

Meteo France, the country’s forecaster, issued orange weather warnings for 10 areas near the country’s west coast as Storm Miguel made landfall in France on Friday, bringing winds of up to 120 kph.

On Saturday, President Emmanuel Macron awarded the three men the posthumous Légion d’Honneur, calling them “heroes”.

The SNSM was created in 1967 and is made up of 8,000 search and rescue volunteers. In 2017, the crew saved over 9,000 lives.

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