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Sailor Abhilash Tomy severely injured on stricken yacht

A multinational rescue effort is underway to try to reach an injured sailor whose yacht is disabled in the S...

Posted: Sep 24, 2018 1:33 PM
Updated: Sep 24, 2018 1:33 PM

A multinational rescue effort is underway to try to reach an injured sailor whose yacht is disabled in the South Indian Ocean.

Abhilash Tomy, a 39-year-old Indian naval commander, was competing in the 2018 Golden Globe Race -- a nonstop, 30,000-mile solo yachting competition that bars the use of modern technology -- when his boat hit a storm.

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Tomy's 36-foot boat, Thuriya, was one of several hit by 80 mph winds and 46-foot seas midway across the South Indian Ocean on Friday, 82 days into the race, organizers said.

Thuriya's mast was broken about 1,900 miles southwest of Perth, Australia "at the extreme limit of immediate rescue range," they said in a series of media statements.

Organizers became concerned after Tomy sent a text message reading: "ROLLED. DISMASTED. SEVERE BACK INJURY. CANNOT GET UP," and then was unheard from for nearly 15 hours.

In a later satellite text message, the sailor gave his location and wrote: "ACTIVATED EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon). CANT WALK. MIGHT NEED STRETCHER."

The race said that subsequent messages indicated that Tomy was safe but lying immobilized in his bunk, with his latest message reading: "CAN MOVE TOES. FEEL NUMB. CAN'T EAT OR DRINK. TOUGH 2 REACH GRAB BAG."

The Maritime Rescue Coordination Center in Canberra, Australia, is in charge of the rescue operation.

Race organizers posted a photo to Facebook early Sunday of the Thuriya taken from an Indian Navy aircraft and showing the vessel's sails in the water.

Organizers said in the post that Tomy was able to tell them via text message that he heard the airplane fly by.

An executive jet has also been dispatched from Perth, Australia, with crew that will assess damage to Tomy's boat. The crew had intended to make radio contact with him early Sunday, but the batteries on Tomy's communication devices have since died, organizers said in a Facebook post.

Rescuers also will check on Irish skipper Gregor McGuckin, whose boat was rolled in the same storm and who was about 90 miles away from Tomy, organizers said. McGuckin had set up a makeshift rig on his boat and was trying to reach Tomy using a mixture of wind and engine power.

The Australian, Indian and French navies also are sending vessels to assist.

A French fisheries patrol vessel with medical facilities on board is expected to reach Tomy first, while Indian authorities dispatched a military plane from Mauritius and are diverting a stealth frigate and tanker from exercises off South Africa.

Australian authorities are sending an Anzac-class frigate, but it is expected to take four to five days to reach Tomy.

Estonian sailor Uku Randmaa is also trying to reach the disabled boats.

Race organizers said Sunday that poor weather conditions will delay the arrival of the first ship to Tomy until Tuesday. McGuckin could reach Tomy on Monday.

Origins of the race

The 2018 Golden Globe fleet set sail on July 1 from Les Sables d'Olonne in France. The race is by invitation only and requires prior ocean sailing experience of at least 8,000 miles and solo experience of at least 2,000 miles.

Eighteen vessels began this year's race -- marking the 50th anniversary of the original race -- but by September 10 seven of the boats had retired from the competition.

In line with the 1968 race, skippers must navigate using paper charts and the stars, with no watermaker aboard.

However, the 2018 boats carry some modern technology to keep their skippers safe.

The sailors have the ability to send 100-character text reports via satellite twice a day and to use a satellite phone to make a weekly safety check.

Each boat also carries a sealed safety box containing a GPS and second satellite phone, but breaking the seal disqualifies a sailor from the race.

Race organizers also track the boats via GPS -- though sailors cannot see the data.

Tomy's boat is a replica of Robin Knox-Johnston's yacht Suhaili.

Knox-Johnston won the inaugural Golden Globe race, becoming the first person to sail solo around the world nonstop. His trip took 312 days and he was the only finisher of the nine skippers who started the race.

Knox-Johnston expressed concern for Tomy on Twitter Sunday morning.

"Very concerned about @abhilashtomy's injuries and will be glad when assistance can reach him," he said.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated sailor Uku Randmaa's nationality. He is Estonian.

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