Rescue underway for teen solo sailor

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A map showing Abby Sunderland's route

A rescue operation is underway after sixteen-year-old American Abby Sunderland, attempting to sail around the world by herself, lost contact with her family while in the Indian Ocean.

Sunderland, from Thousand Oaks, California, had originally hoped to become the youngest person to sail around the world nonstop by herself. She departed from Marina del Rey, California on January 23, 2010 and was about halfway through the attempt when Sunderland's family lost communication with her Thursday morning. That night, an Australian plane was able to locate her 40-foot (12.2-metre) long boat, Wild Eyes, which had lost its mast earlier.

Sunderland had been sailing amid a rough storm in the Indian Ocean early Thursday when her boat was flipped over. The mast broke off as a consequence. After losing contact, the teenager activated two manual distress radiobeacons, or EPIRBs, and a search-and-rescue operation was formed. As part of the operation, a Qantas Airways Airbus A330 was sent over the ocean by Australian authorities. The plane's crew was able to make radio contact with Sunderland, and confirmed that she was not injured and that her boat was upright, but was unable to continue sailing. The closest rescue boat, a French fishing ship, was about 24 hours away from Sunderland's location when she was found, and is expected to meet her later today. She was stranded about 2000 miles (3218.7 kilometres) southwest of Australia's coast.

This is not Sunderland's first obstacle during the journey. Near the beginning of the voyage, she made a stop at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, after the boat's generators were not producing enough power. She resumed the attempt in February, but autopilot problems forced another stop at Cape Town, South Africa for repairs in April, and she had to give up going for the unassisted record.

Sunderland's parents, Laurence and Marianne, have vigorously defended against claims that their daughter was too young to be attempting such a feat. They have also been criticized for allowing her to depart the United States at the beginning of the year, because Sunderland would likely arrive in the Indian Ocean during the region's winter. Marianne Sunderland has said that Abby would likely not try "something of this magnitude again." Last year, her brother Zac had completed a circumnavigation when he sailed solo around the world at the age of seventeen. She had begun preparing for this journey at the age of thirteen.