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Boats en route to rescue local teen sailor

June 11, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
With her sailboat crippled by bad weather, 16-year-old Abby Sunderland of Thousand Oaks is adrift in the frigid southern Indian Ocean. She appears to be doing well but she's still alone in the middle of the ocean, waiting for rescue boats heading her way.

After a tense 20 hours of silence, a search plane launched from Australia's west coast spotted Sunderland and talked to her via radio.

"I knew in my heart that she was OK, but your mind does play out different scenarios. It was a very, very difficult several hours," said Abby's mother MaryAnne Sunderland.

Her boat was damaged by strong winds and 30-foot waves that ripped the mast, knocked out her communications and prompted her to set off a distress signal. The 40-foot sailboat is intact and isn't taking on any water. Right now the only thing that she and her family can do is wait until the rescue vessels reach her.

"She not out of the woods yet. I mean, the weather is calming down more and more, but she's not a newbie, she knows what she's doing. She knows that she's still out there and she's been super cautious the whole time," said MaryAnne Sunderland.

Aside from being in the cold ocean waters, she has plenty of food and supplies to last until she's rescued. Search workers who flew above got a chance to communicate with her and she appears to be doing fine.

"She was on the back deck, she was very hard to see in the seas but she sounds very upbeat," said Michael Wear, West Australian Water Police.

Sunderland set sail from Marina del Rey in January, hoping to become the youngest person to sail around the world solo. She suffered several setbacks having to stop in Mexico and then in South Africa with mechanical problems. She still planned on completing the trip, but with the sail dragging in the ocean she decided she couldn't go much further.

"She had 30-foot waves at the time of the incident and that is dissipating," said Abby's father Laurence Sunderland. "I don't know exactly the wave height right now but they're probably 20-foot dying down."

Abby's brother Zac Sunderland knows what his sister is going through. He sailed around the world and set a record when he was 17 years old.

"Yeah, I mean, it's crazy to be on the other end of the situation seeing as we're home waiting for her, not really knowing what she's going through but it's a lot better than yesterday at this time when we had no idea where she was or what past situations she was in," said Zac.

Rescue boats are reportedly being slowed down by the bad weather in the southern Indian Ocean, but are expected to reach Sunderland on Saturday afternoon.


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