A 16-year-old Californian girl attempting to sail solo around the world is safe and well, her parents said, after a massive search and rescue was launched in the Indian Ocean after she triggered distress signals.
Teenage adventurer Abby Sunderland was last heard from about 1300 GMT on Thursday, when she broke off a satellite phone call as her yacht Wild Eyes was pounded by huge waves in the remote southern Indian Ocean. “Wild Eyes is upright but her rigging is down. The weather conditions are abating. Radio communication was made and Abby reports that she is fine!” her parents posted on her blog (soloround.blogspot.com/).
“The French fishing vessel that was diverted to her location will be there in a little over 24 hours. Where they will take her or how long it will take we don’t know,” they said. An Australian aircraft flew over Sunderland on Friday, reporting that her yacht had been dismast and they believe the keel had been detached. “The aircraft spoke to her, they told her that help was on the way, and she sounds like she is in good health,” said Mick Kinley from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority in Canberra.
“She is going to hang in there until the vessel can get to her in about 24 hours,” Kinley told a news conference. The authority said conditions in the area were poor, with 90 kmh (56 mph) winds and a six meter (18 feet) swell. The search for Sunderland involved Australia, US and French rescue authorities sending ships and a commercial airliner to an area about 2000 miles southeast of Madagascar and 2000 miles southwest of Australia.
Sunderland’s father, Laurence, earlier lost contact with his daughter during a satellite phone call and believed her boat may have rolled in treacherous conditions. The two emergency beacons transmitting signals are attached to the boat and Sunderland’s survival suit, and are activated manually by the sailor. Laurence Sunderland said his daughter had all of the safety equipment she needed, including a cold water survival suit, life raft and bag with emergency supplies.
The area is one of the most difficult parts of the world to launch rescue operations. British solo sailor Tony Bullimore had to be rescued by an Australian navy frigate in 1996 after his yacht capsized during a race in which another competitor died. During a blog entry written on Wednesday, Sunderland, who began her trip in January, described sailing her boat through several days of rough weather, which apparently damaged a sail.
She said she was able to patch the sail, but added: “It wasn’t the most fun job I’ve had out here. Wild Eyes was rolling around like crazy.” Veteran Australian sailor Ian Kiernan, who held the Australian record for solo circumnavigation of the world, said Sunderland’s trip was badly planned, given the mountainous seas and huge wind strengths of winter in the area. “I don’t know what she’s doing in the Southern Ocean as a 16-year-old in the middle of winter. It’s foolhardy,” Kiernan said.
Sunderland had hoped to become the youngest sailor to circumnavigate the globe alone nonstop but had to give up her chance at that record when she was forced to pull into a port at Cape Town, South Africa, for repairs to her boat. Her parents have been criticised by some in the media for allowing her to undertake the solo voyage at 16. Sailing experts have said that she was ill-advised to leave California in January, because she risked arriving in the Indian Ocean at the start of the winter season.
In a post on her blog, her family wrote she had battled 60-knot winds and 20-to-25-foot (6-to-7.6-meter) seas before going missing and had been “knocked down” several times — a reference to the boat tipping until the sails touch water.