Sailor winched on to helicopter carrying seven dogs in a quilt

A MAN smuggled his seven dogs on to a rescue helicopter after abandoning his catamaran in heavy surf in a dramatic rescue off the coast of Western Australia.

Yachtsman Thane Mortensen was told by a rescue helicopter pilot that his dogs were not allowed on board and would have to be left behind.

Mr Mortensen decided he could not leave his beloved Jack Russells to drown, so he secretly bundled his seven dogs into a quilt cover, before being winched to safety - clinging on to them with just one hand. His other hand was on the winch.

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"Seeing the chopper come in was a very comforting feeling," Mr Mortensen said yesterday, safely back on dry land with his dogs. "Then the pilot remarked that the dogs were not permitted on the chopper. I was horrified.

"I didn't question him, but I just grabbed a double-bed quilt slip and I put them all in it - like a big Santa sack."

The 45-year-old said he then climbed into a life-raft, before being winched up with one hand on the rescue cable and one hand clutching his baggage of dogs, his precious Jack Russells.

"I just had these dogs, trying to rest on my knees, because if the bottom of that bag had torn open I would have seen all my dogs drop to a horrible death that I could never live with," he said.

Mr Mortensen, from South Australia, battled swells for 48 hours before a mast on his eight-metre catamaran broke off Cape Londonderry, about 200 miles west of Wyndham on the Kimberley coast. It was only then that he issued a mayday.

"I was stuck in this like whirlpool with the breeze on my nose and the swell just coming at me, just huge white cap … and it was pitching me up and done and around," he said.

Although Mr Mortensen said he feared for his life, it was the safety of his dogs at the forefront of his mind. "At the end of the day, if I happened to lose my life, so be it, but I hate to have the thought of leaving my animals behind to suffer," he said.

Mr Mortensen used a satellite phone to call his stepfather, who then contacted the authorities.

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A rescue helicopter was sent to the location of the stricken yacht.

Last night, Mr Mortensen and his dogs were recovering on dry land in Kununurra, Western Australia.

"I've been out bush for a long time and the only thing I'm really craving is a hamburger," he said.

Mr Mortensen said he would not attempt to salvage the 20,000 uninsured yacht.

Western Australia Water Police said a navigation warning would be issued for vessels in the area.