A TEAM led by a Weymouth skipper discovered a lost shipwreck not seen for 50 years when undertaking the deepest organised dive in the English Channel.

Grahame Knott, skipper of Wey Chieftan III, took a group of nine divers on the expedition and they plunged to a depth of 120 metres in the Hurd Deep trench four times the depth of the average scuba dive.

During the five-and-a-half hour dive the team found the well-preserved wreck of La Mahenge, an 8,000 tonne cargo ship.

They were the first to set eyes on the wreck since the ship sank more than 50 years ago following a collision with another vessel in 1952.

Mr Knott, a diver of 20 years' experience who founded the Weymouth and Portland Dive Charter Association, said: "It was a real Hollywood shipwreck.

"We found her at a depth of 120m lying at an angle of 45 degrees, totally intact, including the masts, which made her rise 30m from the bottom."

He added: "It was like a time capsule from 1952. It's rare to find wrecks like that because they have usually been used for salvage."

The group battled ferocious tides' that took them seven miles from the wreck during the hours it took them to surface.

Mr Knott said: "This would be the deepest organised dive in the Channel so far."

He said it was only recent developments in re-breathing equipment that recycles divers' air that had allowed them to hit such depths.

"The logistical and technical problems involved in a dive like this are massive. The guy on the boat is just as important as the divers.

"It's like a military operation. We have to literally grapple on to the wreck from the surface."

Divers surfaced on a free-floating wire, which was tracked for seven miles by Wey Chieftain III as it was caught by the tide.

Mr Knott said: "A lot of research goes into it. We don't just go out to any spot. We do research, we work with the hydrographic office."

Mr Knott added that all those who took part were very experienced divers.

Not all of their dives achieved have such satisfactory results. After one dive to 95m the group found themselves exploring the remains of a mobile jetty.

"It was like diving off the pontoons at Weymouth, we did have a laugh about it afterwards occasionally we get it wrong," said Mr Knott.