Severely-injured yachtsman Abhilash Tomy rescued at sea

Posted at 8:50 AM, Sep 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-24 04:08:19-04

India’s Abhilash Tomy gestures on his boat “Thuriya” blows a kiss as he sets sails from Les Sables d’Olonne Harbour on July 1, 2018, at the start of the solo around-the-world “Golden Globe Race” ocean race in which sailors compete without high technology aides such as GPS or computers. (Photo by Damien MEYER/AFP/Getty Images)

Rescuers have saved an Indian yachtsman hit by a storm that left him badly injured with his boat drifting at sea for more than two days in rough conditions.

Abhilash Tomy, a 39-year-old Indian naval commander, was competing in the 2018 Golden Globe Race — a nonstop, 30,000-mile solo yachting competition that bars the use of modern technology — when his boat hit a storm on Friday more than 3,000 kilometers (nearly 2,000 miles) off the coast of Australia.

Multinational rescue efforts were immediately launched to save him, but Tomy’s 36-foot boat, Thuriya, one of several hit by 80 mph winds and 46-foot seas midway across the South Indian Ocean, was “at the extreme limit of immediate rescue range,” according to race organizers.

The Maritime Rescue Coordination Center in Canberra, Australia, was in charge of the rescue operation, with Australian, French and Indian naval vessels, and other yachts from the competition racing through rough conditions to reach him.

The Indian navy tweeted that he had been rescued on Monday. “Tomy rescued safely…” , read a Monday tweet from the verified account of the Spokesperson of the Indian Navy.

Race officials had sent messages to Tomy informing him of the latest updates to the rescue plan, but were concerned when he no longer returned their messages, suggesting he was possibly “now too weak to transmit,” they said.


Calls for help

Thuriya’s mast was broken about 1,900 miles (3,100 km) southwest of Perth, from where Tomy sent a text message Friday reading: “ROLLED. DISMASTED. SEVERE BACK INJURY. CANNOT GET UP”. He then did not communicate for nearly 15 hours.

He later sent messages confirming he’d activated his EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon), but was unable to walk and “might need a stretcher.”

The race said that subsequent messages indicated that Tomy was safe but lying immobilized in his bunk, with one message reading: “CAN MOVE TOES. FEEL NUMB. CAN’T EAT OR DRINK. TOUGH 2 REACH GRAB BAG.”

His latest message said: “LUGGED CANS OF ICE TEA. HAVING THAT. VOMITING CONTINUINGLY. CHEST BURNING Position: 39′ 33.512 S 077′ 41.608 E”.

Rescue efforts

A French Fisheries patrol vessel was due to reach Tomy between between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. GMT (2 a.m. to 4 a.m. ET) Monday. “Plan is to launch two zodiacs (small inflatable boats) with crew to Tomy then attempt boarding and admin immediate first aid,” Golden Globe race organizers said in a Facebook post. “Then assess possible evacuation.”

An Indian military aircraft was scheduled to fly over the stricken vessel two hours before in an attempt to establish communications between the French vessel and another yacht, skippered by Irishman Gregor McGuckin, who was also caught in the storm but managed to join the rescue operation.

Organizers said that there were still strong winds and a large swell.

Race organizers posted a photo to Facebook early Sunday of the Thuriya taken from an Indian Navy aircraft and showing the vessel’s sails in the water.

Organizers said that Tomy was able to tell them via text message that he heard the airplane fly by.

An executive jet has also been dispatched from Perth, Australia, with crew that will assess damage to Tomy’s boat.

Indian authorities dispatched a military plane from Mauritius and are diverting a stealth frigate and tanker from exercises off South Africa.

Australian authorities are sending an Anzac-class frigate, but it is expected to take four to five days to reach Tomy.

Estonian yachtsman Uku Randmaa is also trying to reach Tomy.

Irishman McGuckin, whose boat also rolled in the storm and sustained minor injuries, has also asked to be evacuated.

“He is NOT in distress but feels it is the responsible option to take now that all Rescue assets are close at hand,” said race organizers.

McGuckin had set up a makeshift rig on his boat and was trying to reach Tomy using a mixture of wind and engine power.

Race organizers had said Sunday that poor weather conditions had delayed the arrival of the first ship to Tomy until Tuesday, but the French vessel had later made good progress.

The Race’s website described Tomy as one of India’s most prominent sailors and a pilot in the Indian Navy.

Tomy has covered 52,000 miles (84,000 km) under sail while in the Indian navy, including a solo non-stop circumnavigation from Mumbai in 2012/13, it said.

He was quoted as saying of the Golden Globe Race: The emphasis is not on technology and its management, but on seamanship and a direct experience of sea. This spartan philosophy is in keeping with my own view that a lot can be achieved with very little.”

Origins of the race

The 2018 Golden Globe fleet set sail on July 1 from Les Sables d’Olonne in France. The race is by invitation only and requires prior ocean sailing experience of at least 8,000 miles (12,900 km) and solo experience of at least 3,000 miles (3,220 kilometers).

Eighteen vessels began this year’s race — marking the 50th anniversary of the original race — but by September 10 seven of the boats had retired from the competition.

In line with the original 1968 race, skippers must navigate using paper charts and the stars.

However, the 2018 boats carry some modern technology to keep their skippers safe.

The sailors have the ability to send 100-character text reports via satellite twice a day and to use a satellite phone to make a weekly safety check.

Each boat also carries a sealed safety box containing a GPS and second satellite phone, but breaking the seal disqualifies a sailor from the race.

Race organizers also track the boats via GPS — though sailors cannot see the data.

Tomy’s boat is a replica of Robin Knox-Johnston’s yacht Suhaili.

Knox-Johnston won the inaugural Golden Globe race, becoming the first person to sail solo around the world nonstop. His trip took 312 days and he was the only finisher of the nine skippers who started the race.

Knox-Johnston expressed concern for Tomy on Twitter Sunday morning.

“Very concerned about @abhilashtomy’s injuries and will be glad when assistance can reach him,” he said.