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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Rescue teams reach stranded teen sailor

A French fishing vessel reached a remote area in the Indian Ocean on Saturday morning to fetch a stranded 16-year-old California girl who lost contact as she tried to circumnavigate the globe in her yacht.

Rescue workers found Abby Sunderland in good health, said her brother, Zack. The family is planning to hold a news conference around noon ET on Saturday,

Abby, who is trying to be the world's youngest to sail around the world, lost satellite contact on Thursday and issued a distress call after what appeared to be a rogue wave hit the boat, damaging its communications equipment.

"We don't know where she is going to be taken," said her father Laurence Sunderland, adding that it could be Australia or the Reunion Islands, a French territory.

"Once the authorities have informed us, we will make our necessary plans to rendezvous with her," Sunderland said in an interview with Julie Ellerton of Thousand Oaks, California.

Ellerton submitted her interview to iReport, the CNN website that allows users to submit pictures and videos.

Abby's pregnant mother is expected to go into labor soon, so her parents will not fly out to meet her, Sunderland said.

"We are absolutely over the moon. We are very, very happy and excited that the Australian search and rescue jumped on this right away, got a plane after her," said Sunderland said in a separate interview.

Abby's mother, Marianna Sunderland, said rescue coordinators in Australia told the family that Abby is fine and that the boat, yacht, Wild Eyes, is upright.

"She has food, water, and she is running her heater, keeping warm. So she seems to be in good spirits, and that's about all we really know for sure," she said.

Abby's journey began in January from the Marina del Rey in California. According to her blog, Abby faced rough winds as she crossed a turbulent area. It was then that she set off the emergency beacon.

"We knew that emergency beacon was giving off a signal," her father said in the Ellerton interview. "We knew that she was in a hazardous condition and needed rescue. That's why she set it off. She did everything textbook-style. She was dismasted. She's thousands of miles away from landfall. She's in very hostile conditions. Her boat's immobilized. She did the right thing."

Her brother Zack, who circumnavigated the globe in 2009, becoming the first under 18 to make the trip, recalled his own "rough" journey through the Indian Ocean.

"No one gets out of it without hitting a bit of a rough patch," he said.

"You have to have your boat so prepared, all the systems to make it possible for you to do it single-hands. When those systems start breaking, a lot of responsibilities are in you," he said.

"You have to stay up for hours and hours and battle sleep deprivation and storms. ... She has been through that for the best part of 150 days, dealing with it single-handing," he said.

Laurence Sunderland addressed critics who said his daughter was too young to sail solo around the globe, and also questioned the cost involved in rescuing her.

"In regards to a 16-year-old going on this trip, if you take the age factor out of it, you're either good enough to go on that trip or you're not," he said. "Abigail's proved herself and her ability over and beyond most people that are out there on the ocean doing similar things."

As for the cost, Sunderland said, "my daughter's life is priceless."



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