A SAILOR has died after a Solent-based yacht capsized in the English Channel.

Four other crew members were airlifted to hospital from the Hooligan V after it got into difficulties off the South Devon coast.

The dead crewman, who has not yet been named, was believed to be in his twenties.

An investigation was launched today into the tragedy, which happened at 4am today.

Hooligan V, registered in the Solent area, was being skippered by Royal Southampton Yacht Club member Ed Broadway when it apparently lost its keel.

The air and sea rescue operation was launched after red flares were spotted by a merchant vessel seven miles off Prawle Point, near Salcombe.

A broadcast was made to craft in the area and a nearby boat reported seeing a capsized yacht and a life raft in the water.

Four people of the five crew from the 35ft yacht were found in a life raft and taken aboard a lifeboat.

Chris Winzar, Royal National Lifeboat Institution coxswain at Salcombe, said the search ended when a merchant ship saw a lifejacket floating in the water.

"We went to the scene to pick the lifejacket up and sadly found the body of the missing person.

"At this stage the search was called off and one of the helicopters diverted to airlift some of the yacht crew from the merchant ship who were suffering from hypothermia.

"It is a very sad outcome and our thoughts are with the yacht crew and their families at this terrible time.

"RNLI crew volunteers train to save lives at sea, so it is always difficult when someone does not survive an incident."

The operation involved Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels Wave Knight and Wave Ruler, HMS Portland and two Sea King rescue helicopters from Chivenor in north Devon and Culdrose in Cornwall.

RNLI lifeboats from Salcombe and Torbay were involved.

A coastguard spokesman said today the four crew rescued from the life raft had been taken to hospital in Plymouth.

"All the surviving crew are quite well. They did suffer with slight hypothermia. They have been treated and they are doing OK now," he said.

A Department of Transport spokeswoman said: "The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) is sending a team to Devon to conduct a preliminary examination of the incident."

Torbay lifeboat was set to try to recover the yacht back to Brixham.