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Help on the Way for American Teen Sailor


Abby Sunderland, 16, missing in the Indian Ocean while attempting a solo voyage around the world has been found safe

An American teenager who went missing in the Indian Ocean while attempting a solo voyage around the world has been found safe.

The family of Abby Sunderland, 16, said a search plane dispatched to her last known location, more than 3,000 kilometers from both Africa and Australia, discovered her boat with a broken mast.

Mick Kinley with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority reported rescuers have made contact with her via radio and she reported that she's in good spirits.

"She has been told that help is on the way which no doubt will make her feel a lot better, but not reported to be injured at all so yes, fingers crossed," Kinley said.

Craft Damaged by Storm

Sunderland was last heard from early Thursday when she broke off satellite phone contact with her family and activated two emergency signals. Earlier, she had reported her yacht was being pounded by huge waves in the southern Indian Ocean.

"Obviously something on the boat happened that caused her to believe she needed to activate her emergency locator," said Jeff Casher, one of Abby's support staff back at her home in California.

"The three things that are most likely are either the keel hit something and snapped off and the boat went upside down. Or something like the mast came down and in danger of puncturing the hull if she tries to sail it anywhere. And the third possibility is that it can get a little uncomfortable and violent out there when the boat gets knocked down and you can get thrown across the cabin, she might just have gotten thrown across the cabin and gotten hurt to the point where she is not able to sail the boat," said Casher.

Abby's brother Zac Sunderland completed his own solo voyage around the world last year at age 17 and said his sister is a very accomplished sailor but she is also in an area of the Indian Ocean with dangerous conditions.

Youthful Advenurers

Not everyone in the sailing community has been supportive of young adults taking on such challenges.

Ian Kiernan, an Australian around-the-world sailor expressed sympathy for her plight, but also skepticism about her ability to take on such an ambitious adventure alone.

"I don't know what she's doing in the Southern [Indian] Ocean as a 16-year-old in the middle of winter, it's foolhardy. And the fact that her e-pirb [distress radio beacons] went off attached to the life raft, I thought perhaps the raft had washed overboard, and that may still be the case. But two e-pirbs going off, it's a bit sinister to me," Kiernan said.

Abby embarked on her trip trying to be the youngest sailor to complete a solo nonstop circumnavigation. But that goal ended in April when she was forced to stop in South Africa because her autopilot malfunctioned.

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