A rescue effort has been launched in hope of finding Abby Sunderland, 16, who set off her emergency beacon locating devices from the southern Indian Ocean early this morning.
Sunderland, who had been attempting to sail around the world alone, endured multiple knockdowns in 60-knot winds Thursday before conditions briefly abated.
However, her parents lost satellite phone contact early this morning and an hour later were notified by the Australian Coast Guard that both of Sunderland's EPIRB satellite devices had been activated.
One is apparently is attached to a survival suit or a life raft and meant to be used when a person is in the water or aboard a life raft.
Abby's father struggled with emotions and said he didn't know if his daughter was in a life raft or aboard the boat, or whether the boat was upside down.
"Everything seemed to be under control," Laurence Sunderland said. "But then our call dropped and a hour later the Coast Guard called."
Abby is hundreds of miles from land. The nearest ship was about 400 miles away. The rescue effort is being coordinated by the French-controlled Reunion Islands and Australia. Sunderland had been sailing in 50- to 60-foot seas and it was dark when the EPIRB devices were activated.
The Sunderlands are asking people to pray for their daughter, a high-school junior from Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Charlie Nobles, executive director of the American Sailing Assn., said, "We're all praying for her and our thoughts are with her. If she's got the survival suit, and she's got the EPIRB and she's in pretty good shape, she's just got to try to hang on. And when they get there, these guys... they're going to hopefully send the best that they've got to try to do a rescue and it's definitely possible. They're amazing people who do those rescues. They know exactly what they're heading into."
Nobles said a scenario whereby a sailor has to abandon ship might go like this: Water flooding the vessel automatically inflates the life raft, which is tethered to the sailboat. The sailor, if the sailboat is sinking, would grab the boat's EPIRB device and stuff it into a ditch kit, take the ditch kit and deploy and climb aboard the life raft. The sailor would only cut the tether if the sailboat is sinking, pulling down the lifeboat.
Abby was for several months one of two 16-year-olds attempting to sail around the world alone. Australia's Jessica Watson completed her journey last month, just days before turning 17.
Abby's brother Zac, who graduated from high school, completed a solo-circumnavigation last summer at 17.
The timing of Abby's trip was criticized by some because it was going to place her in the middle of the Indian Ocean when the stormy Southern Hemisphere winter was at hand.
-- Pete Thomas
Image of Abby Sunderland courtesy of Gizara Arts