Injured round-the-world yacht crew airlifted to safety

 

Two sailors who were injured when a large wave crashed onto their yacht during a round-the-world race were being airlifted to land today, race organisers said.

Three British crew members and one Australian were hurt on board the vessel when it was caught in rough seas about 400 miles off the California coast in the Pacific Ocean.

The boat, the Geraldton Western Australia, is one of 10 UK-registered 68ft yachts competing in the Clipper Round The World Yacht Race, which takes place once every two years.

Jane Hitchens, 50, from Kent, and 29-year-old Nik Brbora, who lives in London, were transferred by small boat to US coast guard cutter, the Bertholf, and then taken to San Francisco by helicopter.

Ms Hitchens, a doctor, has four suspected broken ribs, and Mr Brbora, a software engineer, has suspected pelvic strain.

Both were said to be “in good spirits”.

Two other injured crew members - Max Wilson, 62, a farmer from Queensland, Australia, who also has suspected broken ribs, and Mark Burkes, 47, from Worcestershire, who suffered a back injury - were deemed well enough to remain on the yacht until it reaches land in about 24 hours' time.

The four sailors were hurt when a wave hit the boat in storm conditions on Saturday, sweeping away its steering wheel and mount and some of its communications equipment.

The US coast guard had planned to winch the injured people from the yacht but this was later said to be too dangerous.

Jonathan Levy, of race organisers Clipper Ventures, said: “They were transferred by small boat instead because there was too much movement on the yacht to allow them to be winched. The 100ft mast moves around quite a lot.

“They're now on a helicopter and en route to San Francisco.”

Earlier a C-130 aircraft dropped additional medical supplies to the yacht, including oxygen for one of the crew.

An initial attempt was made at around 2am (6pm local time) yesterday to parachute medical help to the sailors but it was abandoned after poor weather conditions meant paramedics were unable to jump out of the aircraft.

Waves near the yacht are reported to be between about 20ft.

The yacht is heading towards Oakland, San Francisco Bay, under secondary steering and is within 250 miles from port.

Yesterday, race director Jonathan Bailey said: “We are naturally concerned at the recent incident on Geraldton Western Australia and are in close contact with the skipper, UK Maritime and Coastguard at Falmouth and the US Coast Guard.

“The safety of all Clipper Race crew is extremely important to us. Our skippers are highly experienced and several crew members on board have medical training.”

The rest of the 18-strong crew on the boat are said to be uninjured but shaken.

The 40,000-mile race, which features predominantly amateur crews, started in Southampton in July last year and is due to return to the city in July this year.

PA

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