A man has been confirmed dead after being knocked overboard

A man in the ARC rally from Las Palmas to St Lucia was lost overboard from his yacht in mid-Atlantic on Saturday and has been confirmed dead, organisers World Cruising Club have announced.

Phillip Hitchcock, 47, from Sevenoaks in Kent, is believed to have been knocked overboard by the boom while working on deck of his Formosa 51, Toutazimut. The yacht was at 24°06’N 26°02’W and sailing downwind on Saturday morning in 30 knot winds and seas described as ‘rough’. Mr Hitchcock is believed to have been attached to the yacht by a harness at the time.

Mr Hitchcock was sailing two-handed with his brother David, 52. David Hitchcock is understood to have tried to use a man overboard recovery sling to retrieve his brother, but according to World Cruising Club: “The equipment may have broken as he was trying to get him back on board. Details are sketchy.”

David Hitchcock reportedly slowed the boat, but was unable to recover his brother on board for at least half an hour. Phillip Hitchcock is believed to have died in the water, still attached to the boat.

A Mayday call was received from Toutazimut at 1230UTC on Saturday. MRCC Falmouth Coastguard co-ordinated the incident with MRCC Ponta Delgada, assisted by World Cruising Club. Several other ARC yachts have diverted to Toutazimut’s position. Mekeia, a Contest 43, is standing by, ready to transfer crew when conditions moderate sufficiently to put them safely on board. Another yacht is heading to the scene and the Jubilee Sailing Trust’s tall ship Tenacious has turned around and is motor sailing back to assist.

This is the first fatality in the annual ARC rally in its 17-year history. Since 1985 nearly 3,000 yachts have crossed the Atlantic safely with the event, which has strict safety scrutineering before the start. Solo sailors are not permitted in the ARC, though this year there were more than 20 boats being sailed by two crew, the largest ever number of double-handers.