Missing Teen Sailor Found Safe in Indian Ocean

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UPDATE: ABBY SUNDERLAND FOUND SAFE

Good news: This from AFP:

An American teenage girl was found safe with her damaged yacht on Friday after going missing in stormy Indian Ocean seas during a controversial attempt to sail solo round the world. An Australian search plane spotted Abby Sunderland, 16, after 0600 GMT on Friday, after she lost the mast on her vessel “Wild Eyes” thousands of miles from help and triggered emergency beacons. “She’s fine, the boat’s afloat and she’s on it,” her father Laurence Sunderland told Australia’s public broadcaster ABC. “It’s huge, fantastic, exciting news.” Australia scrambled a chartered passenger jet from Perth early on Friday to scour seas some 2,300 miles away, roughly halfway to mainland Africa. Authorities in Reunion Island, near Mauritius, off eastern Africa, said a patrol craft and a trade ship had also been diverted to Sunderland’s location, as well as a fishing boat which is expected to reach her within 24 hours. “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 wrote on her blog. The blog described how the young yachtswoman was earlier “knocked down several times” as she battled winds of up to 60 knots and sea swells reaching 20-25 feet. Laurence Sunderland said his daughter would not be resuming her round-the-world attempt, saying the fishing vessel that is steaming towards her would take her to an undetermined location. “We’ve got our Abigail back and the quest will be over,” he said. “Knowing that she’s alive and well means so much more to me than any sailing record. It’s just a huge, huge relief.”

Laurence and Marianne Sunderland said on Abby’s blog Thursday that the earliest possible point at which a ship might reach their daughter, Abby, was 40 hours away (as of early Thursday afternoon, ET). They also said that they were actively seeking an air rescue but added that “this is difficult due to the remoteness of her location.”

Now it appears as though an air rescue won’t be needed. Sunderland told searchers Friday that she had a space heater and two week’s-worth of food. She would be able to wait until Saturday when rescue ships are expected to reach her.

Abby Sunderland lost satellite phone contact with her parents early Thursday morning as they were helping her troubleshoot her boat’s motor with spotty satellite phone reception.

They then learned from the Australian Coast Guard that Abby had activated two of her emergency beacons.

Abby’s parents noted in their post that both of these beacons were activated manually. A third beacon, which would have been automatically activated if her boat was underwater, was not set off.

“Her water-activated EPIRB has not been activated so we are hopeful that the boat is still upright,” the parents wrote on their daughter’s website.

Sunderland had been dealing with waves topping 20 feet and high winds while sailing more than 400 miles from the nearest ship and even farther from land.

The Southern California girl’s attempt to become the youngest person to sail around the world without stopping launched from Los Angeles County’s Marina del Rey on Jan. 23.

Sunderland soon ran into equipment problems when the autopilot on her 40-foot sailboat, “Wild Eyes,” failed and she had to stop for repairs, giving up the nonstop solo bid in April. Still, she continued and left Cape Town, South Africa, on May 21, according to her website, and on Monday reached the halfway point of her goal.

“I gave it my best shot and made it almost half way around the world,” she wrote on her website. “I admit I was pretty upset at first, but there is no point in getting upset. What’s done is done and there is nothing I can do about it.”

In her latest blog entry, Abby Sunderland wrote, “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.”

Some had argued that Sunderland was too young to attempt the voyage alone, but her family had assured that the 16-year-old was up to the challenge. The family had been boating together for decades and Abby’s older brother, Zac, completed his around-the-world voyage at age 17.

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