In an operation that the Spanish coast guard described as “verging on the impossible,” a 62-year-old Frenchman was saved after spending sixteen hours floating in an air bubble inside his sailboat that capsized in the Atlantic Ocean.
The coast guard reported that on Monday at 8:23 p.m. local time, the forty-foot (twelve-meter) Jeanne SOLO Sailor, which was fourteen miles from the Sisargas Islands off Spain’s northwesterly Galicia region, sent out a distress signal.
Tracking information revealed that it had left Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, early the day before.
The capsized sailboat was discovered as dusk fell
One of the three helicopters sent to help with the search discovered the capsized sailboat in the Atlantic Ocean as dusk fell, and a rescue ship carrying five divers set sail.
The man inside, who has not been identified, knocked back in response to the diver’s beating on the ship’s hull as he searched for signs of life.
Because the sea was too rough to attempt a rescue, they tied buoyancy balloons to the ship’s hull to keep it from sinking further and waited until morning.
Two divers swam beneath the boat to assist the sailor, who was dressed in a neoprene survival suit and submerged up to his knees.
The man voluntarily dove into the chilly water and swam under the boat to reach the surface, according to Vicente Cobelo of the coast guard’s special operations squad, who spoke to a local station.
He added that, on his own initiative, the diver had to drag him through the water after he free dived out because it was impossible for him to exit in his suit.
After being transported to a hospital for examinations and airlifted to safety, he was quickly released without incident.