Rescuers Search For U.S. Teen On Solo World Sail

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Taken from Abby Sunderland's Flickr account

Abby Sunderland sets sail from Marina Del Ray on January 23, 2010 to begin her quest to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world.

Abby Sunderland, 16, was feared in trouble Thursday in the southern Indian Ocean after her emergency beacons began signaling and communication was lost. Her family was talking with U.S. and international governments about organizing a search of the remote ocean between southern Africa and Australia, a family spokesman said.

A 16-year-old Southern California girl attempting a solo sail around the world was feared in trouble Thursday in the frigid, heaving southern Indian Ocean after her emergency beacons began signaling and communication was lost.

Abby Sunderland's family was talking with U.S. and international governments about organizing a search of the remote ocean between southern Africa and Australia, family spokesman Christian Pinkston said.

Conditions can quickly become perilous for any sailor exposed to the elements in that part of the world.

"We've got to get a plane out there quick," said Pinkston, adding that the teen's family in Thousand Oaks was asking for prayers for her safety.

"They are exhausting every resource to try to mobilize an air rescue including discussions with the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Coast Guard and various international rescue organizations," he said. The closest land is France's Reunion Island, east of Madagascar, though the exact distance wasn't clear.

Abby, a high school junior, has wanted to sail the globe solo since she was 13. Her ardor only increased in 2008 when her older brother Zac became the youngest solo sailor to circumnavigate the globe at 17.

Several months ago, her parents finally agreed she was skilled and mature enough to face the challenge. In late January, she set off from the Los Angeles marina in her 40-foot boat, Wild Eyes, but had to stop because of equipment problems. She resumed her sail, even though she could no longer hope to make her trip in record time.

Abby passed her trip's halfway mark on Monday, but somewhere between Africa and Australia, her emergency beacons went off.

Abby last communicated with her family at 4 a.m. PDT and reported 30-foot swells but was not in distress, Pinkston said.

An hour later the family was notified that her emergency beacons had been activated, and there was no further communication. Pinkston said the beacons were manually activated.

Zac Sunderland told Los Angeles radio station KNX that Abby was in a heavy storm at the time she called home.

"We're still trying to figure out the rescue situation," he said. "There's two boats headed out to her position, one is an estimated 40 hours, the other is 48. Right now we're trying to figure out if there is any way faster. She's in the middle of nowhere pretty much in the southern Indian Ocean. There's nothing closer."

He said Abby's boat was most likely not completely submerged because another beacon would be triggered at a depth of 15 feet.

On Wednesday, Abby wrote in her blog that it had been a rough few days with huge seas that had her boat "rolling around like crazy."

"I've been in some rough weather for awhile with winds steady at 40-45 knots with higher gusts," she wrote. "With that front passing, the conditions were lighter today. It was a nice day today with some lighter winds which gave me a chance to patch everything up. Wild Eyes was great through everything but after a day with over 50 knots at times, I had quite a bit of work to do."

Information on her website said that as of June 8 she had completed a 2,100-mile leg from South Africa to north of the Kerguelen Islands, taking a route to avoid an ice hazard area. Ahead of her lay more than 2,100 miles of ocean on a 10- to 16-day leg to a point south of Cape Leeuwin on the southwest tip of Australia. Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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