16-year-old adventurer goes missing at sea

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, June 10, 2010 20:30 EDT
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A 16-year-old US sailor attempting a daring solo voyage around the globe has gone missing in the Indian Ocean, US media reported Thursday citing her family.

A rescue effort was launched off the coast of Madagascar early Thursday after young adventurer Abby Sunderland ran into mountainous seas and emergency beacons on board her sailboat were triggered.

Sunderland, from the Los Angeles suburb of Thousand Oaks, was believed to be hundreds of miles from land with the nearest ship around 400 miles away. A rescue effort was being coordinated by the Reunion Islands and Australia.

She set sail in January amid criticism that her itinerary was too risky because it would place her in the Indian Ocean during the turbulent Southern Hemisphere winter.

Her father Laurence Sunderland told outdoor sports blogger Pete Thomas that he lost contact with his daughter during a satellite phone call early Thursday before being notified by the Australian Coast Guard that both of his daughter’s emergency beacons had been activated.

“Everything seemed to be under control,” her father was quoted as saying on the blog (www.petethomasoutdoors.com). “But then our call dropped and a hour later the Coast Guard called.”

One of the beacons is attached to a survival suit or life raft and is only to be used when a person is in the water or aboard a life raft, reports said.

ABC News quoted an engineer on Sunderland’s support team as saying the youngster’s boat — “Wild Eyes” — had been knocked down twice during the night because of strong winds. Radar had been ripped off the boat during one of the knock-downs, engineer Jeff Casher told ABC.

Sunderland herself had posted an ominous update to her blog late Wednesday, where she wrote that she was preparing for rough weather.

“The wind is beginning to pick up. It is back up to 20 knots and I am expecting that by midnight tonight I could have 35-50 knots with gusts to 60 so I am off to sleep before it really picks up,” she wrote.

Sunderland had been bidding to follow in the footsteps of her elder brother, Zac, who arrived back in California in July last year to a hero’s welcome after circumnavigating the globe in a 13-month voyage.

Zac Sunderland had been 16 when he set out on the journey, turning 17 in November 2008 before arriving home eight months later.

However Abby Sunderland’s journey had been criticized in some quarters as too dangerous.

Prominent Los Angeles Times sports columnist T.J. Simers accused Sunderland’s parents of “child abuse” for allowing their daughter to go ahead with her voyage.

“Why is any 16-year-old allowed to place herself in harm’s way? Why would any parent allow such a thing?” Simers raged, describing Sunderland’s mission as “outrageous, ridiculous, incomprehensible insanity.”

In a recent interview with ABC, the Sunderlands defended their encouragement of their children’s sailing exploits.

“Could there be a tragedy?” mother MaryAnne Sunderland said. “Yeah, there could be. But there could be a tragedy on the way home tonight, you know, or driving with her friends in a car at 16. You minimize the risks.”

Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
AFP journalists cover wars, conflicts, politics, science, health, the environment, technology, fashion, entertainment, the offbeat, sports and a whole lot more in text, photographs, video, graphics and online.
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