An American teenage girl was rescued Saturday after a botched attempt to sail solo round the world left her drifting for two nights in rough Indian Ocean seas, sparking an international emergency.
Abby Sunderland, 16, was plucked from her damaged yacht by a fishing boat after getting into trouble in a far-flung part of the ocean Thursday, prompting Australia to scramble aircraft for the long-range search.
“The rescue of 16-year-old US solo sailor, Abby Sunderland, from the yacht Wild Eyes to the fishing vessel Ile De La Reunion was successfully conducted at 7:45pm (0945 GMT) today,” the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said.
“The master of the Ile De La Reunion has reported Ms Sunderland is safe and in good health,” the statement added.
Sunderland had been waiting for the boat since Friday, when Australian rescuers spotted her from the air and made radio contact. Giant seas and high winds had calmed slightly to a four- to five-metre (-yard) swell, they said.
“It’s been a little bit crazy these past few days. Everything’s happened pretty fast but I was really lucky that there was a boat that could come and get me where I was,” she said, according to Australian broadcaster ABC.
“When stuff is going on out there you can’t really get too scared about it — I mean it doesn’t really do any good.”
She set sail from California in January despite criticism that her itinerary was too risky because it would place her in the Indian Ocean during the perilous Southern Hemisphere winter.
The teenager is likely to be transferred to another craft and either taken to Australia — some 3,700 kilometres (2,300 miles) away — or France’s Reunion Island off east Africa.
Her compact 40-foot (12-meter) sailboat, which was equipped with a small bunk bed, a water-maker and a store of freeze-dried food, was abandoned, according to ABC.
The rescue, which saw a boat launched from the fishing vessel to fetch her, went largely without a hitch, though Reunion officials said the captain of the fishing boat fell into the choppy waters and had to be dragged out of the sea.
The first thing the teenager did after the rescue was to call her anguished mother by satellite phone, Australian Associated Press (AAP) reported.
The rescue comes just a month after Australia’s Jessica Watson became the youngest person to sail round the world non-stop, solo and unassisted, aged 16, among a rash of similar trips by teenage adventurers.
Sunderland’s brother Zac completed his own round-the-world solo sail last year aged 17, as did Briton’s Mike Perham — who is now dating Watson.
Last year, authorities in the Netherlands vetoed a 14-year-old girl’s attempt to sail alone round the world and placed her in care.
Fears for Sunderland’s safety mounted after her parents lost contact with her shortly before two emergency beacons on the craft were activated Thursday.
But her parents have rejected criticism of their child’s attempt to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world.
“The fact is whether a teenager, or a young adult or a middle-aged person, there have been many rescues that have taken place,” her father, Laurence Sunderland, told NBC television’s Today program.
He cited the example of French yachtswoman Isabelle Autissier, who was rescued from her capsized yacht in the southern Pacific Ocean in 1999 during the solo round-the-world race.
“Do we say that she shouldn’t go out there and sail or that nobody should go out and sail because you face hard knocks and sometimes people need to be rescued? I don’t think so,” Sunderland said.
“This is more of a testimony to (Abby’s) will to survive and deal with the situation than a travesty that she went out there at all.”
Australian authorities have said they will not attempt to recover the costs of the rescue operation.