A 62-year-old French sailor survived for 16 hours in the Atlantic Ocean after his boat capsized — by using an air bubble inside the overturned vessel.
The brave seaman was eventually rescued from the rough waters by Spanish coast guard divers in what they described as an operation “verging on the impossible.”
The 40-foot boat, called the Jeanne SOLO Sailor, sent out a distress signal at 11:23 p.m. local time on Monday 14 miles from the Sisargas Islands off Spain’s northwestern Galicia region, the coast guard said.
Tracking data show it had set sail from the Portuguese capital of Lisbon on Sunday morning.
As a coast guard ship carrying five divers embarked on the rescue mission, one of three helicopters sent to aid the search tracked down the capsized boat at sunset.
A diver was hoisted onto the ship’s hull to seek signs of life and the sailor inside, who has not been named, responded to his banging on the hull by knocking from inside.
With the sea too rough to attempt a rescue, they attached buoyancy balloons to the ship’s hull to prevent it from sinking further and waited until the morning, with the Frenchman still trapped underneath.
Two divers swam under the boat to help the sailor, whom they found wearing a neoprene survival suit and submerged in water up to his knees.
“Each life saved is our greatest reward,” Spain’s Maritime Safety and Rescue Society said in a tweet.
Vicente Cobelo, a member of the coast guard’s special operations team, told a local station the man voluntarily jumped into the freezing water and swam under the boat to reach the sea’s surface.
“Of his own initiative, he got into the water and freedived out, helped by the divers who had to pull him through because it was difficult for him to get out in his suit,” he said.
He was airlifted to safety and taken to a hospital but discharged a short time later with a clean bill of health.
With Post wires