Search Plane Locates U.S. Teen On Solo World Sail

Abby Sunderland, 16, looks out from her sailboat, Wild Eyes in January. i i

Abby Sunderland, 16, leaves from Marina del Rey, Calif., on Jan. 23, on a world record attempt to become the youngest person to sail nonstop around the world. Richard Hartog/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Richard Hartog/AP
Abby Sunderland, 16, looks out from her sailboat, Wild Eyes in January.

Abby Sunderland, 16, leaves from Marina del Rey, Calif., on Jan. 23, on a world record attempt to become the youngest person to sail nonstop around the world.

Richard Hartog/AP

A French fishing vessel was on its way to rescue a 16-year-old girl who was found alive Friday after being feared lost at sea as she tried to sail solo around the world.

Abby Sunderland, who had hoped to become the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe, set out from California in January but ran into severe weather in the southern Indian Ocean that knocked out her communications system. Her emergency beacons were activated.

After some 20 hours of silence, a search plane from Australia was able to make radio contact, officials said.

The boat's mast and the attached satellite phone antenna were broken and her mainsail was dragging in the water, said search coordinator Mick Kinley, acting chief of the Australia Maritime Safety Authority, which chartered a commercial jet for the search.

But the keel was intact, the yacht was not taking on water and Abby was equipped for the conditions, he said.

  • On May 22, Jordan Romero, 13, became the youngest climber to reach the top of Mount Everest. Here he stands at the summit of Carstensz Pyramid, Oceania's highest peak at 16,024 feet.
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    On May 22, Jordan Romero, 13, became the youngest climber to reach the top of Mount Everest. Here he stands at the summit of Carstensz Pyramid, Oceania's highest peak at 16,024 feet.
    Courtesy of Romero family/AP
  • The previous record holder,15-year-old Temba Tsheri, summitted Everest two weeks after his 16th birthday in 2001. Temba abandoned his first attempt on the world's tallest mountain in 2000 because of frostbite. He lost three fingers on his right hand and two on his left.
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    The previous record holder,15-year-old Temba Tsheri, summitted Everest two weeks after his 16th birthday in 2001. Temba abandoned his first attempt on the world's tallest mountain in 2000 because of frostbite. He lost three fingers on his right hand and two on his left.
    Devendra Singh/AFP/Getty Images
  • In 1993, 11-year-old Vicki Van Meter became the youngest pilot to fly cross-country.  At age 12, she flew across the Atlantic. In 2008, at age 26, Van Meter, who had been battling depression, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, an apparent suicide.
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    In 1993, 11-year-old Vicki Van Meter became the youngest pilot to fly cross-country. At age 12, she flew across the Atlantic. In 2008, at age 26, Van Meter, who had been battling depression, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, an apparent suicide.
    Pat Wellenbach/AP
  • In 1996, while attempting to set a new cross-country record, Jessica Dubroff, 7, died when her plane crashed in Wyoming, killing all on board: Jessica, her father and her flight instructor. Because of legislation motivated by this crash, it is no longer legal in the U.S. for student pilots to attempt to set records. Jessica is pictured here performing pre-flight checks inside the cockpit of a C...
    Hide caption
    In 1996, while attempting to set a new cross-country record, Jessica Dubroff, 7, died when her plane crashed in Wyoming, killing all on board: Jessica, her father and her flight instructor. Because of legislation motivated by this crash, it is no longer legal in the U.S. for student pilots to attempt to set records. Jessica is pictured here performing pre-flight checks inside the cockpit of a Cessna 172.
    Darryl Bush/AP
  • Zac Sunderland, 17, is greeted by media as he arrives at the harbor in Marina Del Rey, Calif. Zac — who is Abby Sunderland's brother — became the youngest person to sail around the world alone on July 16, 2009, and the first under the age of 18.
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    Zac Sunderland, 17, is greeted by media as he arrives at the harbor in Marina Del Rey, Calif. Zac — who is Abby Sunderland's brother — became the youngest person to sail around the world alone on July 16, 2009, and the first under the age of 18.
    Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images
  • Only six weeks after Zac Sunderland's record,17-year-old Mike Perham of the U.K. set a new one, beating Sunderland's age by two months. Here Perham lights a flare aboard his yacht "Totallymoney.com" after arriving in Portsmouth, U.K., on Aug. 29, 2009.
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    Only six weeks after Zac Sunderland's record,17-year-old Mike Perham of the U.K. set a new one, beating Sunderland's age by two months. Here Perham lights a flare aboard his yacht "Totallymoney.com" after arriving in Portsmouth, U.K., on Aug. 29, 2009.
    Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images
  • 16-year-old Jessica Watson — the current record holder for youngest solo sail around the world — sets off on her yacht Ella's Pink Lady on Oct. 18, 2009, in Sydney, Australia.
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    16-year-old Jessica Watson — the current record holder for youngest solo sail around the world — sets off on her yacht Ella's Pink Lady on Oct. 18, 2009, in Sydney, Australia.
    Brendon Thorne/Getty Images
  • Laura Dekker, just before her 14th birthday in 2009, sits between her father, Dick Dekker (left), and her lawyer Peter de Lange during a courtroom news conference in Utrecht, Netherlands. Dutch courts and social services challenged her parents' consent to allow their daughter to attempt to break the record for youngest solo sail around the world. By December, Dekker had been given permission to...
    Hide caption
    Laura Dekker, just before her 14th birthday in 2009, sits between her father, Dick Dekker (left), and her lawyer Peter de Lange during a courtroom news conference in Utrecht, Netherlands. Dutch courts and social services challenged her parents' consent to allow their daughter to attempt to break the record for youngest solo sail around the world. By December, Dekker had been given permission to proceed with her plans to break the record. She hopes to depart in September.
    Bart Muhl/AP
  • Abby Sunderland, 16, hoped to sail solo around the world but became stranded in the Indian Ocean last week because of severe weather.
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    Abby Sunderland, 16, hoped to sail solo around the world but became stranded in the Indian Ocean last week because of severe weather.
    Richard Hartog/AP

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"The aircraft [crew] spoke to her. They told her help was on the way, and she sounds like she's in good health,'' Kinley told reporters in Canberra, Australia. "She's going to hang in there until a vessel can get to her," probably on Saturday, he said.

Sunderland told searchers Friday that she was doing fine with a space heater and at least two weeks' worth of food, said family spokesman William Bennett. Her family and support team said they had been confident she was alive because the boat's two distress beacons were turned on deliberately rather than set off automatically.

"She's stabilized the situation, and she has to sit tight and we will be there in about 20 hours," her brother told CNN. Zac Sunderland briefly held the record for youngest solo nonstop sailor after completing his own circumnavigation last year at 17.

But 16-year-old Australian sailor Jessica Watson claimed the record on May 15, after completing a 23,000-mile circumnavigation in 210 days.

In the day before Abby Sunderland lost contact, her boat was repeatedly knocked on its side in the frigid waters in what she described as 30-foot seas — as high as a three-story building — and hurricane-force winds.

On Wednesday, she had written in her blog that it had been a rough few days with huge seas that had her boat, Wild Eyes, "rolling around like crazy."

A lifelong sailor, Sunderland's departure was beset by delays that pushed her "weather window" for the Indian Ocean stretch of her voyage into the southern hemisphere winter, when the winds and seas are at their most extreme.

"You want to get down there in the Southern latitudes in December, January, February during the southern hemisphere summer, not in June," Gary Jobson, president of U.S. Sailing and a veteran offshore racer, told NPR.

By the time Sunderland reached South Africa, mechanical failures forced her to put in for repairs and dashed the nonstop part of the record attempt. She decided to continue anyway.

She left Cape Town on May 21 and reached the halfway point of her voyage Monday.

Sunderland's website said that as of June 8, she had completed a 2,100-mile leg from South Africa to north of the Kerguelen Islands, taking a route to avoid an ice hazard area. Ahead of her lay more than 2,100 miles of ocean on a 10- to 16-day leg to a point south of Cape Leeuwin on the southwest tip of Australia.

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