ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Two thunderous bangs believed to come from the engine room of a Spanish fishing trawler were the first sign of trouble aboard the Monte Galineiro.
Eighteen minutes later, the 30-metre vessel, engulfed in flames, listed and sank in the middle of the North Atlantic.
''Everything happened so quickly that it was difficult to realize what was happening,'' Capt. Ivan Blanco said in Spanish, his comments interpreted at a news conference Monday by Spanish Consul General Carlos Valcarcel.
Crew members heard what Blanco described as ''two shocks'' before they saw the lower level of the ship in flames.
He was the last of the 22 crew to escape the rapidly burning boat Sunday, eight to 10 of whom dove into frigid, three-metre swells wearing nothing more than their sleepwear.
Others clung to their lifeboats as 55 kilometre-per-hour winds threatened to topple them over.
But all were saved by a Canadian Coast Guard vessel that was conducting a routine fisheries patrol about 400 kilometres southeast of St. John's when it fielded the distress call.
The Leonard J. Cowley rushed to the scene only 10 minutes away.
''If we hadn't have been there, the guys in the water wouldn't have last more than five or 10 minutes. The water's that cold,'' said John Parsons, the Cowley's second officer.
Cowley Capt. Derek LeRiche said he had serious concerns at first about the prospects for a rescue as most of the trawler's crew scrambled to safety without any of their personal belongings.
''It was too fast,'' LeRiche said after the Cowley docked Monday morning in St. John's.
''Most of them didn't have anything. I think there was one guy actually (who) just came on board in underwear, that was it. Some of them, of course, were in bed asleep so they had to jump up to get off the ship.''