A 62-year-old Frenchman survived for 16 hours in an air bubble inside his capsized sailboat in the Atlantic Ocean before being rescued by Spanish coastguard divers in what they described as an operation “at the limit of the impossible”.
The 40-foot (12-meter) sailor Jeanne SOLO sent a distress signal at 8:23 p.m. local time Monday from 14 miles from the Sisargas Islands off the northwest region of Galicia in Spain, the coastguard said . Tracking data shows he had left the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, the morning of the previous day.
As a rescue vessel carrying five divers set sail, one of three helicopters sent to assist in the search located the overturned vessel as the sun set.
A diver was winched onto the ship’s hull to search for signs of life and the man inside, who has not been named, responded to his blow to the hull by striking from within.
With the sea too rough to attempt a rescue, they attached buoyancy balloons to the ship’s hull to prevent it from sinking further and waited until morning.
Two divers swam under the boat to help the sailor, whom they found wearing a neoprene survival suit and knee-deep in water.
Vicente Cobelo, a member of the Coast Guard’s special operations team, told a local station that the man voluntarily jumped into the freezing water and swam under the boat to reach the surface of the sea.
“On his own initiative he got into the water and snorkeled, helped by the divers who had to pull him because it was difficult for him to get out in his wetsuit,” he said.
He was airlifted to safety and taken to hospital for checks, but was released shortly afterwards without any issues.