Australian crew rescued from Loki during Rolex Middle Sea Race 23/10/07

Here’s the story about the dramatic rescue of the crew off the yachtLokion Sunday night. The Australian crew were rescued from their yacht when, without steerage due to a broken rudder, they risked being washed up on the wind-lashed northern coast of Sicily from their yacht.

According the race office the yacht was doing 15-16kts in 35-knots of wind when there was a sudden bang and the crew saw the rudder floating away behind the boat. The yacht owner Stephen Ainsworth explained how they brought the boat under some semblance of control and made contact with Race Control.

Tomasso Chieffi, a last minute addition to the crew of Atalanta II, the Italian mini-maxi of Carlo Puri Negri, made the seriousness of the situation absolutely vivid. On hearing of Loki’s distress, Atalanta diverted back to see what assistance she could offer, as Chieffi explained: “sailing along side with Loki, Lucas Brown finally was able to get in contact with them over the phone. We heard that the rudder blade was broken. The first idea was to tow them but we did not have a rope that was strong enough to do so. Furthermore, the sea was so high that sometimes the waves were breaking over the mast. It was very difficult to go too near to Loki, the rolling motion was so huge that it was absolutely too dangerous.”

The Italian Coastguard scrambled two boats, but even the larger of the two was unable to do more than standby the woundedLoki. With the lee shore of Golfo di Castallammare fast approaching and the weather conditions atrocious the decision was eventually taken to evacuate the crew by helicopter.

The Italian Airforce Base in Trapani sent a Sikorksy HH3 F from 15 Wing to undertake the lift. Such was the motion ofLokiand height of her mast that the crew had to get into a liferaft for the lift. The first eight crewmembers were picked up at about 10.20pm and the second batch at midnight. Before leaving the stricken yacht an anchor and about 200ft of rope were laid. It appears that the anchor had held withLokispotted floating off the coast in reasonably deep water. Ainsworth reported that attempts to get back out to the boat were being hampered by the continuing bad weather in the region.

That everyone was taken offLokiunharmed is testament to the skill of the Italian Airforce Crew who were flying in peak winds of 45-knots and reduced visibility due to the intense rain and thunderstorms. The height and motion ofLoki’smast meant a lift straight from the yacht was untenable. A rescue diver, Antonio Di Domenico was dropped into the water to manage the transfer from yacht to liferaft and then to the helicopter. Twice.

Loki’screw is all safe ashore in Palermo and were able to contact their families to reassure them of their circumstances. Now all they can do is wait for a window to recoverLoki.