Rescuers have saved an Indian yachtsman hit by a storm that left him badly injured with his boat drifting at sea for more than two days in rough conditions.
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 on Friday more than 3,000 kilometers (nearly 2,000 miles) off the coast of Australia.
Multinational rescue efforts were immediately launched to save him, but Tomy’s 36-foot boat, Thuriya, one of several hit by 80 mph winds and 46-foot seas midway across the South Indian Ocean, was “at the extreme limit of immediate rescue range,” according to race organizers.
The Maritime Rescue Coordination Center in Canberra, Australia, was in charge of the rescue operation, with Australian, French and Indian naval vessels and other yachts from the competition braving rough conditions to reach him.
“Commander Tomy has been rescued. He is conscious. He is fine,” Indian Navy spokesperson Capt. D K Sharma told CNN. “He was rescued by the French fisheries vessel Osiris. They used a generic craft — a rubberized craft — and brought him out on a stretcher.”
Golden Globe Race posted on Facebook: “They have Tomy Onboard and he is conscious and talking…FANTASTIC NEWS..WELL DONE ALL INVOLVED INCREDIBLE NEWS!!!!”
The French fisheries patrol vessel Osiris reached Tomy’s yacht at 5:30 GMT on Monday and Australian and Indian long-range P8 Orion reconnaissance aircraft were circling overhead, the post added.
Rescuer also evacuated
Race organizers said the crew of the Isiris would also evacuate Irishman Gregor McGuckin, who was caught in the same storm but managed to join the rescue operation.
“He is NOT in distress but feels it is the responsible option to take now that all Rescue assets are close at hand,” they said in a statement.
McGuckin had set up a makeshift rig on his boat and was trying to reach Tomy using a mixture of wind and engine power.
Race officials said sea and weather conditions have improved and that the Osiris would make for port once both yachtsmen have been rescued.
“Once the two solo yachtsmen are safely aboard the Osiris the French fisheries patrol ship will proceed to Amsterdam Island where the rescued sailors will be given a full medical examination,” the statement said.
Amsterdam Island is part of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands, roughly equidistant between Africa, Antarctica and Australia.
“The hospital on Amsterdam Island is well equipped with X-ray and ultrasound equipment.” it added.
In good condition
On Tuesday, Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) response center manager Al Lloyd said that Tomy was able to assist himself by transferring off the vessel to the fishery patrol vessel and both sailors are reported to be in good condition.
“A doctor will take a full medical for both sailors when it docks at Amsterdam Island later this week.”
An Australian naval ship, HMS Ballarat, is en route to the island and is scheduled to arrive on Friday where it is planned to bring both sailors on board and return to Australia.
“Tomy was able to communicate with us effectively, however, he was bedridden for most of the time he was on board the vessel and unable to move on the upper decks. At this stage we would suggest his condition is stable.
“(Gregor McGuckin) actually got within a couple of nautical miles of Tomy’s position. His vessel of course had lost both of its sails … it was an excellent piece of seamanship for him to proceed to Tomy and provide assistance.”
He arrived at the stricken boat’s position at the same time as the Osiris and was rescued a few hours later. Both vessels have been abandoned “as the priority of course was to take both sailors back to Amsterdam (Island) for medical assessment.”
India Today journalist Sandeep Unnithan posted this video of the moment Tomy’s craft was spotted from the P8 aircraft.
Race officials had sent messages to Tomy informing him of the latest plans to rescue him, but were concerned when he stopped replying to their messages, suggesting he was possibly “now too weak to transmit,” they had said.
In a tweet Monday evening, Indian President Ram Nath Kovind thanked the French and Australian rescue teams for their role in the mission and wished Tomy “a speedy recovery.”
Also writing on Twitter Monday, Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that Tomy would be taken first to nearby Amsterdam Island, before being transported on Indian naval vessel INS Satpura to Mauritius for medical attention.
Calls for help
Thuriya’s mast was broken about 1,900 miles (3,100 kilometers) southwest of Perth, from where Tomy sent a text message Friday reading: “ROLLED. DISMASTED. SEVERE BACK INJURY. CANNOT GET UP.” He then did not communicate for nearly 15 hours.
He later sent messages confirming he’d activated his EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon), but was unable to walk and “might need a stretcher.”
The race said that subsequent messages indicated that Tomy was safe but lying immobilized in his bunk, with his one message reading: “CAN MOVE TOES. FEEL NUMB. CAN’T EAT OR DRINK. TOUGH 2 REACH GRAB BAG.”
His latest message said: “LUGGED CANS OF ICE TEA. HAVING THAT. VOMITING CONTINUINGLY. CHEST BURNING Position: 39′ 33.512 S 077′ 41.608 E”.
Race organizers had 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 that Tomy was able to tell them via text message that he heard the airplane fly by.
An executive jet had also been dispatched from Perth, Australia to assess damage to Tomy’s boat.
Indian authorities dispatched a military plane from Mauritius and diverted a stealth frigate and tanker from exercises off South Africa.
Australian authorities sent an Anzac-class frigate, but it was expected to take four to five days to reach Tomy.
Estonian yachtsman Uku Randmaa had also tried to reach Tomy.
Race organizers had said Sunday that poor weather conditions would delay the arrival of the first ship to Tomy until Tuesday, but the French vessel had later made good progress.
The race’s website described Tomy as one of India’s most prominent sailors and a pilot in the Indian Navy.
Tomy has covered 52,000 miles (84,000 km) under sail while in the Indian Navy, including a solo non-stop circumnavigation from Mumbai in 2012-13, it said.
He was quoted as saying of the Golden Globe Race: “The emphasis is not on technology and its management, but on seamanship and a direct experience of sea. This spartan philosophy is in keeping with my own view that a lot can be achieved with very little.”
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 3,000 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 original 1968 race, skippers must navigate using paper charts and the stars.
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 tracker 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: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of the Indian President’s name.