Three young locals were saved from spending a night as croc bait after becoming stranded at a popular fishing spot south of Darwin late yesterday.

The three men were fishing on a tidal mangrove island in the Howard River estuary when they lost track of time and became separated from their boat.

Only the tops of the mangroves would have been above the waterline at the peak of last night’s seven metre tide.

The men used a mobile phone to call emergency services and the CareFlight rescue helicopter was sent on the short flight from Darwin airport.

Winched safely aboard by the helicopter crew, and embarrassed but otherwise unharmed, the three were picked up by family members from the CareFlight base only an hour after initially raising the alarm. They immediately rushed back to try to save their car which was also at risk from the rising tide.