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 Coast Guard divers in what they described as an operation “on the brink of the impossible”.
The 40-foot (12-meter) Jeanne SOLO Sailor sent out a distress signal at 8:23 p.m. local time Monday from 14 miles off the Sisargas Islands off Spain’s northwestern region of Galicia, the coast guard said. Tracking data shows that she had set sail from the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, on the morning of the previous day.
As a rescue ship carrying five divers set sail, one of three helicopters dispatched to assist in the search located the capsized boat as the sun set.
A diver was climbed onto the ship’s hull to search for signs of life and the man inside, whose name has not been identified, responded to his blows to the hull by striking from inside.
With the seas 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 out, who was 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 icy water and swam under the boat to reach the surface of the sea.
“On his own initiative, he got into the water and dived in apnea, helped by the divers who had to pull him out because it was difficult for him to get out with his suit,” he said.
He was airlifted to safety and taken to hospital to be checked out, but was released shortly after without issue.