A man fought off crocodiles as he battled to save his mate when a crabbing outing turned to tragedy near Darwin today.

The 72-year-old man told the CareFlight rescue helicopter crew of his three-hour ordeal as they flew him from the Leaders Creek boat ramp, near Gunn Point, 38 km north-east of Darwin.

The two men, from Victoria, set out from the boat ramp this morning.

As they attempted to bring some crab pots into their small three-metre tinny, a crocodile capsized their boat and they were thrown into the water.

One of the men drowned as they tried to climb onto the capsized boat in the water.

The other man threw spanners and spark plugs as other crocodiles which approached until he managed to push the boat into the relative safety of mangroves.

When the tide came in, the man found greater safety in the water.

Three professional crabbers heard the man’s shouts and rescued him, then took him back to the Leaders Creek boat ramp along with his mate’s body.

At the safety of the ramp the men found other fishos who drove to where they could get phone reception to raise the alarm.

A doctor and nurse with CareFlight’s rescue helicopter flew to the boat ramp and treated the surviving man for severe shock before flying him back to Darwin.

Police and St John ambulance attended the scene at Leaders Creek boat ramp.