June 10th, 2010
02:09 PM ET

Teen sailor missing at sea

Abby Sunderland is trying to sail solo around the world and had reached the halfway point Monday.

[Updated at 7:24 p.m. ET] Electronic signals from Sunderland's boat indicate it is drifting at just 1 mph, which means it still is afloat but not under sail, said Jeff Casher, an engineer on her support team.

The mast might have fallen or Sunderland could have been injured,
preventing her from sailing, he said.

Read the full CNN.com story

[Updated at 4:20 p.m. ET] Abby Sunderland's family is scrambling to persuade any government with an aircraft in the area to help find the 16-year-old sailor, family spokesman Christian Pinkston told CNN.

The California teen's 40-foot boat was in the Indian Ocean, about 2,000 miles east of Madagascar and 2,000 miles west of Australia, when distress signals started coming from the boat Thursday morning California time, Pinkston said. No one has been able to contact Sunderland since then.

Sunderland began her journey from Marina del Rey, California, on January 23 with the goal of sailing her 40-foot boat around the world solo and without stopping. Mechanical troubles forced her to make two stops for repairs, including in Cape Town, South Africa, in early May.

Sunderland's family was told at about 5 a.m. PT about the distress signals. The family had spoken to her just one hour earlier, and although she was in rough seas, she was not in distress at that time, according to Pinkston.

The closest boat - a private fishing vessel - is 40 hours away, according to Pinkston.

The distress signals came from two manually activated distress beacons, Sunderland's family said on her blog Thursday afternoon. When they were talking with her Thursday morning, she told them she had just had a rough sailing day, with winds of up to 60 knots and seas of up to 25 feet, though the winds had subsided to about 35 knots, according to the blog.

"We are actively seeking out some sort of air rescue but this is difficult due to the remoteness of her location," the family's blog post said. "Australian Search and Rescue have arranged to have a [Qantas] Airbus fly over her location at first light (she is 11 hours later). They will not be able to help her other than to talk via marine radio if they are able to get close enough. Hopefully, they will be able to assess her situation and report back to us."

The post also said Abby "has all of the equipment on board to survive a crisis situation like this."

"She has a dry suit, survival suit, life raft, and ditch bag with emergency supplies," the family's post said. "If she can keep warm and hang on, help will be there as soon as possible."

The Australian coast guard and the Reunion Island government - a French island that is the closest land to her last position - are involved in efforts to help Sunderland, according to Peter Thomas, a freelance journalist who spoke to Sunderland's father Thursday.

[Posted at 2:09 p.m. ET] A teenage girl attempting to sail solo around the world has gone missing after sending out distress signals in the Indian Ocean, according to a CNN affiliate in her hometown.

Abby Sunderland, 16, of Thousand Oaks, California, has not been heard from since losing contact with her family during a storm Thursday, her brother told CNN affiliate KTLA in Los Angeles.

Sunderland activated her emergency beacon locating devices an hour after losing contact with her family, and a rescue effort is under way. The nearest boat is believed to be at least 40 hours away, according to KTLA.

Sunderland celebrated passing the halfway point Monday on her quest to circumnavigate the globe alone in a sailboat, according to her website. She initially planned to be the youngest to make the trip nonstop, but that was undone in early May when she stopped for repairs in South Africa.

"I've been in some rough weather for awhile with winds steady at 40-45 knots with higher gusts," she wrote Wednesday on her blog. It took her two hours to repair a torn sail in the wind and high waves, and her internet connection on board her 40-foot boat, Wild Eyes, was failing, she wrote.

CNN's Alan Duke, Allison Blakely and Irving Last contributed to this report.

soundoff (1,190 Responses)
  1. deborah

    My prayers are with Abby, her family and her team of advisers. I've been following Abby on her blog and she is a very mature well-educated young lady who has been very capable of making the correct decisions on her journey. I am now praying that she will be found. That is all that matters now.

    June 10, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  2. KHat39

    There is no way this young woman would be able to get as far as she did without knowing what she was doing – my parents are 60+-year-old sailors and couldn't do half of what she has done on this trip.

    When I was 16, my parents let me live in a foreign country for a year to fulfill a dream. There are 16-year-olds getting married, having babies and starting families. There are 16-year-olds already in law school or medical school. There are 16-year-olds competing in the Olympics and hiking the Appalachian trail alone. A few generations ago, 16 was when you left home and started life on your own. Nowadays parents can keep in closer touch via the internet and satellite phones. This is a young woman who proved herself capable of being an adult and I will never fault her parents for recognizing and honoring that. HOWEVER, I also believe that she and her family should reimburse any costs of rescue sources as they agreed to the risks before setting on this voyage.

    I'm hoping for the best ending and suspect this is a matter of equipment failure, not personal danger.

    June 10, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Duh

      you were lucky you returned home safely...however, i can't help but thing you are negating to mention the fact that you probably lived with a host family for that year. and as for 16 year olds being in law school and starting families good for them, but they aren't endangering their lives

      June 10, 2010 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
  3. bailoutsos

    To those bashing her parents, do you feel the same about parents that let their children play high school sports and get killed while playing or practicing?

    June 10, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Kdog

    I think letting a minor do something like that is bad parenting. I'm surprised there aren't laws against it. Let her do it when she's an adult. Quit letting youngsters do stupid stuff like this just to get a record and have 15 minutes of fame. If it's not stopped now they will just get younger and younger until more kids get lost at sea.

    June 10, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Bradl Beaver

    From her dad moments ago,
    We spoke with Abby early this morning and learned that she had had a very rough day with winds up to 60 knots and seas 20-25 feet. She had been knocked down several times but was handling things well. The wind had subsided to around 35 knots which she and Wild Eyes are quite comfortable with.

    We were helping her troubleshoot her engine that she was trying to start to charge her systems. Satellite phone reception was patchy. She was able to get the water out of the engine and start her up. We were waiting to hear back from her when American Search & Rescue authorities called to report having received a signal from her emergency beacon (EPIRB). We initially thought that the signal was sent automatically from her water-activated EPIRB and that it had been activated during one of her knockdowns. As we pulled the paperwork from her EPIRB registration, we learned that the signal had come from her manually activated EPIRB.

    We were referred to Australian Search & Rescue and while we were on the phone with them another signal came in from her handheld PLB (Personal Locator Beacon). Her water-activated EPIRB has not been activated so we are hopeful that the boat is still upright.

    We are working closely with American, French and Australian Search & Rescue authorities to coordinate several ships in the area to divert to her location. There are several ships in her area, the earliest possible contact is 40 hours. We are actively seeking out some sort of air rescue but this is difficult due to the remoteness of her location. Australian Search & Rescue have arranged to have a Quantas Airbus fly over her location at first light (she is 11 hours later). They will not be able to help her other than to talk via marine radio if they are able to get close enough. Hopefully, they will be able to assess her situation and report back to us.

    Abby has all of the equipment on board to survive a crisis situation like this. She has a dry suit, survival suit, life raft, and ditch bag with emergency supplies. If she can keep warm and hang on, help will be there as soon as possible. Wild Eyes is designed for travel in the Southern Ocean and is equipped with 5 air-tight bulkheads to keep her buoyant in the event of major hull damage. It is built to Category 0 standards and is designed to self-right in the event of capsize.

    Thank you for all of your kind emails and calls. We appreciate your prayers and support.

    We will update as soon as there is some news.

    Laurence, Marianne and Team Abby

    June 10, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  6. bailoutsos

    To those bashing her parents, do you feel the same about parents that let their children play high school sports and they get killed while playing or practicing?

    June 10, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • mimi

      The odds and percentage of that happening in sports are slim to none whereas letting a child head out into the ocean is insane and the chances are extremely HIGH that she will never be seen again............ No comparison/big difference. .

      June 10, 2010 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  7. josh

    Was Joran Van Der Sloot with her?

    June 10, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mike

    These parents should be prosecuted for negligence. Sailing solo at 16 around the world? Maybe with the parents behind her in a shadow boat. What blatant stupidity. How can this not be parental abandonment?

    I pray this girl turns up safe and people make an example of her parents for being utterly stupid.

    June 10, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  9. mimi

    How nuts is it to say she died doing what she loved? She could be alive doing what she loves if her parents hadn't been so insane as to let her take this crazy journey alone......some parents have no clue how to say NO to their kids........sad, very sad!

    June 10, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Brian

    Kids think they are ready for anything.

    I do believe she needs more 'life experiences' to help deal with situations before she just jumps in a boat and tries to sail around the world on a whim.

    Foolish....

    June 10, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Paul

    Well that blonde airhead!! Doesn't she know that you can't sail aronud the world! LOL You would fall off the edge.....DUH!

    June 10, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Matt L

    To boldly go where "she" has not been before! I take my hat off to her. So long as her parents didn't push this on her, it's not their fault. She is old enough to have children. She can drive. Pony express riders were 16...their risk just as great, perhaps greater. So, this young lady decides she isn't going to live her life in the relative safety and security of the living room couch. Good for her! She has one chance at life, is living it to the fullest, out from under the shade of the backyard tree...and I can tell you, she has probably lived more in her weeks at sea, than most live in a lifetime. I hope she survives. If not, she did die doing what she loved, and THAT is what matters!

    June 10, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Mar

    Indian Ocean? Pirates? Hello?! Who lets a young 16 year old female sail alone? And then anounce it on the news. Hmm... It's like saying, there she is. Go get her. My parents wouldn't even let me go to the store alone or drive at that age. I hope she's ok, but this is just plain crazy!

    June 10, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Rob

    This was an unnecessary tragedy. Considering how many people die from making bad decisions their whole life, this seems no different to me. The only difference is someone was attention whoring on a larger scale. It's like the backwoods hillbilly that says, "Here hold my beer" before they do something outlandishly crazy that gets them killed.

    June 10, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Observer

    The parents should be sued for every penny spent on rescue efforts and then sent to prison for child negligence.

    June 10, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49