Hanoi - Hundreds of bystanders gathered around a lake in Hanoi erupted into shouts and cheers as a rescue team finally managed to net Vietnam's most famous turtle.

Crowds of people stood around Hoan Kiem lake from the early hours on Sunday in hot and sticky temperatures to watch a dedicated team try to save the animal after lacerations were spotted on its neck.

The long wait for action came to an end late in the afternoon when 50 rescuers who were herding the 300-kilogram turtle with rowing boats and a large net finally closed in.

Some of the 50-strong team jumped out into the water and led the creature into a cage. Two boats then took it to a small island where its health is to be evaluated.

This was the second attempt to rescue the turtle. The first met spectacular failure last month when the creature broke through two nets and made a dash for freedom.

After that, plans for further rescue missions were kept very low key, with soldiers posted around the lake insisting that it Sunday's effort was only a practice run.

The lacerations seen on the animal have been blamed on fishing hooks and bites from aggressive red-ear turtles that have been released into the water by locals tired of keeping the animals as pets.

The lake in the centre of the city is also badly polluted.

Kiem, a 23-year-old student, was watching Sunday's action.

'I'm from Saigon but even there we know about the Hoan Kiem turtle,' she said. 'We are very happy to see the turtle, it's a once in a lifetime experience.'

Businessman Chung Hai Linh, 41, shared her enthusiasm.

'Many Vietnamese people believe it is lucky to see the turtle and today is the first day of the lunar month so we feel blessed,' he said.

The turtle's legendary status dates back to 15th-century Emperor Ly Tai To, who is said to have defeated invading Chinese forces with a magical sword given to him by the gods. The following day, the reptile returned the sword to heaven, according to the myth.

Ho Hoan Kiem means Lake of the Restored Sword.

The turtle is estimated to be about 100 years old. It is believed to be one of only four of the Rafetus swinhoei species alive today.

Deutsche Presse Agentur - April 3, 2011