A search-and-rescue operation is underway in the Indian Ocean for 16-year-old Abby Sunderland, a California girl who'se trying to become the youngest person ever to sail around the world alone. Abby's emergency beacon went off early Thursday morning, and communication with her is lost.
Abby last communicated with her family by satellite phone at 4 a.m., reporting 30-foot swells, but no distress, said family spokesman Christian Pinkston. An hour later, the family was notified that Abby triggered her emergency beacon.
Pinkston said Abby is literally "in the middle of nowhere," about 2,000 miles east of Madagascar and 2,000 miles west of Australia. The nearest ship is 400 miles away, and would take days to reach her.
"We've got to get a plane out there quick," said Pinkston. "They are exhausting every resource to try to mobilize an air rescue including discussions with the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Coast Guard and various international rescue organizations."
Her brother, Zac, who sailed around the world at age 17, told Los Angeles radio station KNX that Abby was in a heavy storm at the time she called home.
"We're still trying to figure out the rescue situation," he said. "There's two boats headed out to her position, one is an estimated 40 hours, the other is 48. Right now we're trying to figure out if there is any way faster. She's in the middle of nowhere pretty much in the southern Indian Ocean. There's nothing closer."
Abby set sail from Marina del Rey, California in her 40-foot boat on January 23rd in an attempt to become the youngest person to sail around the world alone without stopping. But she soon ran into equipment problems and had to stop for repairs. She gave up the goal of setting the record in April, but continued on.
On Monday she reached the halfway point of her voyage amid the most difficult part -- the Indian Ocean. Critics questioned the timing of her trip from the very beginning, because it would put her in the Indian Ocean during the winter storm season, which can become treacherous.
On Wednesday, she wrote in her log that it had been a rough few days with huge seas that had her boat "rolling around like crazy."
"I've been in some rough weather for awhile with winds steady at 40-45 knots with higher gusts," she wrote. "With that front passing, the conditions were lighter today. It was a nice day today with some lighter winds which gave me a chance to patch everything up. Wild Eyes (her boat) was great through everything but after a day with over 50 knots at times, I had quite a bit of work to do."
At this point, it would appear that Abby's boat is most likely not completely submerged because another beacon would be triggered at a depth of 15 feet. In a worst-case scenario, the boat is equipped with a life raft that is considered unsinkable. She also has a "ditch bag" filled with survival gear to keep her alive until rescuers arrive.
Peter Thomas, a freelance journalist who spoke to Abby's father Thursday, said Abby is a "very determined" and "very capable sailor."
"She's pretty much unfazed by most everything, but she had been fatigued by this period of winds which she's been going through for several days now," he said.