At 8:15 on Monday morning (10/15/2012) – forget
all about which time zone – a solo sailor in a remote part of the
Australia’s Tasman Sea fired the emergency beacon from his crippled
boat. The lone mast had snapped in a storm and, low on fuel, the bad
weather only heightened his misery. So he fired a device called an EPIRB
and soon a very strange thing happened from high above in the sky.
A huge Air Canada Boeing 777 came
screaming across what appeared to be the top of the water. The jetliner,
which normally flies at 35,000 feet, diverted from its normal
Sydney-from-Vancouver route, dropped to just 3,700 feet over the sea and
– with 220 sets of wide-open eyes scanning the water and a wingspan of
just as many feet – promptly found “a needle in a haystack.
As the plane’s captain resumed
altitude to get back on course, the navigator radioed the precise
coordinates, confirmed human activity on the sailboat, and – presto –
the sailor has since been rescued by a New Zealand Police launch and was
due to be back on land sometime yesterday.
Think about that for a minute. As
one passenger wrote on Facebook, “15 hour flight ends up being 17 hours
as we descend to 4,000 ft. to locate a capsized yacht for search and
rescue. Amazing, and slightly off-putting, to see what a Boeing 777
aircraft can do when not on autopilot and flying/circling low over the
ocean. Found the boat thanks to people who bring binoculars in their
carry-on (yup, like 6-7 sets aboard) and now we are home safely.”
Stephen Hosking, who runs the Quays
Marina at Church Point on the Australian coast, has never heard of
anything like it. “We’re told the EPIRB is the absolute last resort when
we are out on the water. He must have been in trouble and would have
tried everything before setting it off. Either that or he’s an idiot.”
The Australian Maritime Safety
Authority takes EPIRB alerts very seriously and almost the instant the
beacon was charged it was determined a ship-in-distress was about 270
nautical miles east of Sydney. It was also quickly learned Air Canada
Flight AC033 was the closest vessel to the digital “Mayday!”
Capt. Andrew Robertson, the Air
Canada chief pilot, was contacted by Australian air traffic control.
“There is a ship, a yacht in distress, may be sunk, and you are the
closest aircraft. Would you be able to assist?” came the query.
“Once we put the (coordinates) into
our computer … and determined we had the fuel … I made a PA announcement
to ask the passengers to watch for the boat because it is like
searching for a needle in a haystack,” Capt. Robertson said.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve just
received a call from search and rescue teams in Australia saying that
there was a yacht that was sinking off the shore of Sydney. We are the
closest air craft in the vicinity and they have asked us to identify the
location of the boat. It is going to mean a slight detour…”
After flying for almost 14 hours,
there was a decided “nervousness” as the gigantic airplane began to
rapidly descend. “Almost right away my First Officer spotted something,
but at 5,000 feet it is hard to make out details. So I went from 5,000
down to 3,700 … and they saw what they thought initially were three
people on deck, but it turns out there was only one.”
The pilot said the 220 passengers
were “awesome” as they tagged along and, while the search delayed the
plane’s arrival by 90 minutes, the passengers were “really happy and
pleased with the outcome.”
One passenger was Canadian songbird
Jill Barber, a popular singer who promptly Tweeted, “It was not what I’d
call an uneventful flight … very impressed with the response of the
captain, the crew and the passengers!”
Jill admitted anxiety at first.
“Anything out of the ordinary on a long flight like that, over the
ocean, can make your heart race a little bit. So, everybody was
concerned but – you know – rolling with it. When we began circling
around, it was a bit scary. It felt like we were flying right on top of
the water. We had a pretty good view and (the pilot) was tipping the
wings from side to side to maximize the view.
“Everybody on board cheered and
clapped when they announced they had found the boat and a police boat
was en route. But it was not uneventful at all,” the singer laughed
during an interview.
After the boat’s beacon was
activated, an Air New Zealand Airbus 320, en route to Sydney from
Auckland, also joined in the search and a cargo ship, the ANL Benalla,
arrived at the site to shield the stricken boat from high winds.
Within a few short hours after the
sailboat was spotted an Australian rescue airplane dropped a life raft,
provisions and a satellite phone. Since then, a New Zealand police
craft, called the Nemesis, has rescued the sailor and is was expected to
arrive in Sydney Harbor by late Wednesday.
The sailor, not yet identified, will
have a whale of a story to share with his buddies but, my oh my, can
you think of how many thank-you notes he has to write to his rescuers? story by Roy Exum
Another report of the rescue:
Some would argue that solo yachtsman Glenn Ey is an unlucky man, with
his beautiful 11 metre vessel Streaker rolled by a rogue wave and
dismasted off the NSW South Coast this week.
Others, including many seasoned search and rescue professionals,
whilst appreciating Mr Ey’s loss, would contend that under the
circumstances, he is indeed an incredibly fortunate man.
left Pittwater on Sydney’s Northern Beaches on October 4 bound for Eden
on the NSW Southern Coast, 44 year old Ey encountered severe weather
and was riding out the storm when disaster struck. A rogue wave hit the
boat rolling it over and destroying the mast.
After making what repairs he could Glenn started the motor and headed
back to what he thought was Sydney coast. Unsure of his exact position,
now out of fuel and drifting helplessly, he activated his GME MT400
The emergency signal was detected by a COSPAS SARSAT satellite and on
decoding the MT400’s unique identification number the Australian Search
& Rescue Authority AMSA was alerted. Unfortunately Mr Ey had failed
to register his EPIRB with AMSA in Canberra, resulting in the MT400
being essentially anonymous, with no ownership information, vessel
particulars or emergency contact numbers.
None the less, AMSA immediately commenced a search and rescue
operation centering on the MT400’s emergency signal location at
approximately 520 kms east of Sydney. AMSA requested an Air Canada
Boeing 777 and an Air New Zealand Airbus both en route to Sydney to
divert to the area and confirm the position of the vessel and gather
additional information about the nature of distress.
On confirmation of the location, a SAR Dornier aircraft was able to
establish radio communications with Mr Ey, the merchant vessel ANL
Benalla was directed to standby alongside the stricken yacht until the
NSW water police vessel Nemesis was able to arrive at the scene and
transfer the yachtsman to Sydney.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing; however Mr Ey’s frightening ordeal
and the subsequent anguish for his family could have been significantly
lessened had he been better prepared for his voyage. Firstly, and most
importantly, his MT400 EPIRB should have been registered with AMSA, it
is free of charge and a legal requirement.
Secondly on solo voyages, particularly offshore ones, a GPS enabled
EPIRB is a far better option. Activating a GPS EPIRB will give rescuers a
position to within 100 metres in a matter of 2 to 3 minutes.
After Mr Ey was reunited with his relieved parents in Sydney, he
profusely thanked everyone involved in his rescue. GME will be donating a
MT406G GPS equipped EPIRB and ensure he has it correctly registered
prior to his next maritime adventure. story by www.gme.net.au