Sailing: Briton goes missing in Sydney-Hobart havoc

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The Independent Online
MAJOR RESCUE operations were under way last night in the search for Britain's Olympic sailor Glyn Charles. The 33-year-old from Emsworth, Hampshire, was yesterday one of nine crew washed overboard the yacht, Sword of Orion, when battling in the heavy seas of the Bass Strait in the Sydney to Hobart race.

He was one of a total of what was at first feared to be 20 people unaccounted for in conditions described by the organisers as some of the worst in the race's 54-year history. All nine of the crew of the 52-foot Winston Churchill were part of a search involveing 30 aircraft and a frigate. But the 10 crew members of the 41-foot B52, which had been feared lost were spotted motoring to safety in the New South Wales fishing port of Eden at the northern end of the Bass Strait.

There were reports of two dead on the 40-foot Naiad - the former New Zealand Admiral's Cup yacht Swuzzlebubble - from which the other seven crew were winched to safety. Early reports indicated the one had drowned and the other died of a heart attack.

Before this year, only one sailor had died since the 630 nautical mile race down Australia's east coast started in 1945, despite often treacherous conditions.

Charles' 43-foot yacht was dismasted as night fell on the second night of the 630-mile race, injuring many others in the crew, including one with a broken leg. Communications were temporarily lost, but eventually a Sea King helicopter was sent to the area with night vision and heat- seeking equipment.

But nothing was found and the search was resumed as light dawned, including the use of an RAAF Orion. It is not known whether Charles, also reported to be injured, was wearing either a lifejacket or a survival suit, but conditions saw 15 to 25-foot seas whipped up by winds of 40 to 50 knots and gusting to 70 knots. At least 37 of the 115 Boxing Day starters retired from the race in the first 24 hours.

Charles, who originally from Wales, represented Britain at the Atlanta Games in the two-man Star in 1996 and was favourite to do the same in Sydney in 2000, was sailing on the yacht skippered by Steve Kulmar, for whom he sailed in the Australian team for the 1997 Admiral's Cup.

The radio relay vessel, Young Endeavour, went to the position given by Winston Churchill's owner, Stephen Stanley, but found nothing at the rendezvous point. Three Australian Navy helicopters also found nothing during an intensive, night-long search.

Hill said officials were also worried about the nine crew on board the 12.5 metre (41 feet) B52, which had not made contact since it was seen dismasted late on Sunday.

"The problem is that when yachts are dismasted, they often lose their communications." Hill said. "The conditions out there are very hard."

Earlier an American, John Campbell, had been winched out of the water 19 miles south of Gabo Island after the yacht Kingurra had been buffeted by the storm. He was rescued, suffering from hypothermia after 40 minutes in the water, by Senior Constable Barry Barclay of the Victorian Police Air Wing. In another helicopter operation, the entire crew of 12 was lifted off James Hallion's Stand Aside.

At the front of those battling on, Larry Ellison, was on course to set a record in his 80-foot maxi Sayonara. The 1995 race's fastest performer was nearly four hours ahead of schedule at the half-way mark to beat the race record of two days 14hr 7min 10sec, set in 1996.