Sailor has to set his brother's body adrift in a liferaft after being unable to lift the casualty on board

The body of a man lost overboard in the ARC rally had to be set adrift attached to a liferaft when his brother was unable to lift it back on board their boat, it emerged today. Phillip Hitchcock was lost from his Formosa 51, Toutazimut, on Saturday between Las Palmas and St Lucia. He was sailing with his brother, David.

Mr Hitchcock, 47, fell or was knocked overboard and into the water, still with his lifeline clipped to the boat, but his brother was unable to get him back on board. “We believe that as part of a rescue attempt, he tried to use a sling recovery system, but we believe it broke or the attempt at recovery failed,” said Jeremy Wyatt of rally organisers World Cruising Club.

At this stage, it is understood that Phillip Hitchcock was still conscious and that the brothers discussed a course of action. It was decided to pay Mr Hitchcock out on a longer line to prevent him being hit on the side of the boat. Says Wyatt: “David heaved to and got the sails down. When the boat was under control and he got him alongside he found that his brother was dead. We do not know the cause of death.”

David Hitchcock alerted MRCC Falmouth to the incident by satphone and later used the ARC radio net silence period to alert other sailors in the ARC. MRCC Falmouth helped with communications, despite it being outside their area of responsibility. According to district controller Colin Sturman, David Hitchcock was unable to get his brother back on board. From discussions with David Hitchcock, they believe his brother may have weighed 20 stone.

According to MRCC Falmouth, David Hitchcock eventually made the decision to cut the lifeline attaching his brother’s body to the boat. World Cruising Club, however, emphasises that this decision was reached in consultation with rescue authorities, and a key element was that “he did not further endanger his own life”.

David Hitchcock reportedly attached his brother’s body to a liferaft, in which he had placed an EPIRB, and set it adrift. Although this is not a well-frequented shipping route, it is possible that a ship might come across the liferaft and be able to recover the body, although no ship has been diverted to do so.

Yacht Mekeia is still standing by as both yachts continue towards St Lucia – the quickest landfall – but as yet conditions are still too rough to attempt a transfer of crew on to Toutazimut.

Another ARC crew contacted MRCC Falmouth on Saturday after they lost their rudder. The crew of F2, a Hunter Legend 450 sailed by Peter and Zara Davis, also from the UK, called Falmouth and confirmed that they were not taking in water, but asked for advice on how to rig a jury rudder. The crew later contacted World Cruising Club with the same request for advice on how to make a jury rig.

Other ARC yachts are standing by and the Jubilee Sailing Trust ship Tenacious is arranging a rendezvous. She has an engineer on her crew and a workshop on board.

Another yacht, Sualiga, a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey owned by French sailor Pierre Samper and his family, are diverting to the Cape Verde islands after finding their diesel tanks were leaking. It is believed that one of their children has also been suffering from severe seasickness.

Conditions continue to be rather rough, with 12-14ft seas and 20-25 knots. The weather is giving the leaders a fast crossing so far, but for others of the fleet the heavy rolling and winds are making life on board uncomfortable and fatiguing.