AS a member of Britain’s main maritime search and rescue organisation, he is used to averting tragedy at sea.

But Hampshire coastguard Steve Calfe found himself battling to save a close friend who stopped breathing after a diving expedition and was clinically dead for several minutes.

He has now become only the second person in 30 years to receive a top life-saving award from the National Sub-Aqua Association.

Steve, 55, of Milford on Sea, was on a day off when he and fellow members of Christchurch-based Arnewood Divers explored the wreck of the SS Braedale, which sank in Christchurch Bay in 1932.

Steve and 58-year-old Jeff Evans had just returned to the surface when Jeff began to suffer from the bends and blacked out.

Steve said: “He started drifting away from the support vessel and was face down in the water.

I flipped him over and towed him back to the boat but he suddenly went as stiff as a board.

“I managed to get him out of the water with the help of the skipper, Richard Styles, and we laid him on the deck.”

However, Steve noticed that Jeff had stopped breathing and performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to keep his friend alive. Jeff was airlifted to Poole General Hospital and spent seven hours in a nearby recompression chamber.

Jeff, of Tuckton, near Bournemouth, said: “I was involved in a head-on car crash in 1993 and suffered serious head injuries.

“During the dive a nitrogen bubble formed in my cerebellum. Instead of dissipating in the normal way it sat on the scar tissue at the base of my brain and gradually got bigger, damaging my central nervous system.

“I was technically dead for two or three minutes. If Steve hadn’t done what he did, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Steve was also praised by Colin Tabor, deputy station officer at the coastguard centre in Bath Road, Lymington, where he is based. “He cites the training he has received from HM Coastguard and Arnewood Divers, which holds rescue and fitness drills each year,” said Mr Tabor.