Australian navy rescues British rowers in Indian Ocean

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The Independent Online

Two british rowers adrift in the middle of the Indian Ocean were rescued by the Australian navy last night.

HMAS Newcastle picked up Mike Noel-Smith and Rob Abernethy 1,500 miles off the west coast of Australia. Doctors on board were treating Mr Noel-Smith for a head injury he suffered during a fierce storm on Saturday.

Mr Noel-Smith, 45, and Mr Abernethy, 31, were attempting a record-breaking voyage from Carnarvon, in Australia, to Reunion Island, east of Madagascar, to raise funds for charity. Mr Abernethy's girlfriend is Ali Cockayne, the ex-partner of Will Carling, the former England rugby captain.

They encountered a vicious storm 200 nautical miles into their 4,400-mile journey.Their vessel, Transventure, was flipped upside down for two minutes. It lost its rudder, safety rail and stabilising device. Mr Noel-Smith suffered concussion and a broken nose when he was smashed against the side of the boat by a huge wave. He has been drifting in and out of consciousness.

The men were rescued at about 6pm British time. "It was an epic adventure and we're very thankful to the Australian navy for what they did for us," Mr Abernethy told Sky News.

Stewart Ross, a spokesman for the pair's charity challenge, said: "The rescue went fantastically well ... The Australian frigate neared the boat, sent out a couple of warning flares before sending two dinghies to rescue the men."

He said they would not know until this morning whether Mr Noel-Smith's injuries were serious enough to divert the frigate to a nearer destination or whether he was fit to be taken to Fremantle.

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