HONG KONG (AFP) – More than two dozen crew members are unaccounted for after their ship broke into two during a typhoon in the South China Sea on Saturday (July 2), with rescuers scrambling to find them.

An engineering vessel that was 160 nautical miles south-west of Hong Kong “suffered substantial damage and broke into two pieces”, and the 30-member crew abandoned ship, according to the Hong Kong Government Flying Service.

Three people had been rescued as at mid-afternoon on Saturday. They were taken to a hospital for treatment, the authorities said.

Dramatic footage provided showed a person being airlifted onto a helicopter while waves crashed over the deck of the semi-submerged ship below.

The three survivors said other crew members might have been swept away by waves before the first helicopter arrived, according to a government statement.

Typhoon Chaba earlier formed in the central part of the South China Sea. On Saturday afternoon, it made landfall in Guangdong province in southern China.

Rescuers in Hong Kong were notified of the incident early in the morning on Friday (July 1) and found the ship near Chaba’s centre, where harsh weather conditions and nearby wind farms made the operation “more difficult and dangerous”.

The ship’s location recorded wind speeds of up to 144kmh and waves that were 10m high, the authorities said.

The Government Flying Service dispatched two sorties of fixed-wing aircraft and four helicopter sorties, with the mainland Chinese authorities also dispatching a rescue boat.

Rescuers said they would increase the search area “due to the large number of people missing” and extend the operation into the night if conditions allowed.