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. M

    The parents should go to jail.

    June 10, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • pg

      That's stupid. If she died in car crash would you say the same thing.

      June 10, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cal777

      You should go to jail. Jail for stupid people. Lets just lock everyone up until they prove they are free of wrong doing.

      June 10, 2010 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
  2. C Harper

    What must the parents be thinking, to allow a 16 year old to sail alone. I'm having a very difficult time understanding what goes on in the head of people. The parents have no-one else to blame but themselves for the loss of this child, and if they have any other children lets hope the proper authorities will rescue them.

    June 10, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cal777

      I disagree. Children should be encouraged to follow their dreams and to think big. This young lady was thinking big. My bet is they find her safe and sound, but if not she died doing something other than driving a car or polluting herself with drugs.

      June 10, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • pg

      Not that it's any of our business, but they were probably thinking that they had a remarkable young woman for a daughter and they put aside their own selfish fears so she could do what she was passionate about. I say good for them.

      June 10, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • boocat

      That's the trouble with some parents. They want to protect their kids from EVERYTHING and it is just not possbile. Alot of parents just want to scare their kids into not trying anything new. These parents are over-protective and neurotic. We're raising a generation of wimps. If she was 26, and tried the same thing, some people would still blame the parents.

      June 10, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Cal777

    What a brave soul! And her parents too for letting her do it. Best of luck young lady! You are in our thoughts!

    June 10, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • David (Georgia)

      Encouraging your children is one thing. Allowing them to endanger themselves is another matter entirely.

      June 10, 2010 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  4. MsAledella

    To "just me", I totally agree. Personally, I think this generation of reality-TV raised kids have got their aspirations in all the wrong places. "Graciegal", please unwad your panties. Going to college in a school (on dry land) in a different country at 16 is a tad different than getting into a boat, alone and attempting to sail round the world purely for fame and perhaps some inflated sense of self-accomplishment.

    Hopefully she is found safe. And hopefully another teen with reckless ideas of being the youngest to do such-and-such will be deterred by her mishap.

    June 10, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cal777

      Would you say the same if she had devoted her life to an olympic sport? This is a real sailing accomplishment and an adventure she will always keep. Who gives any one the right to judge another for their decisions that effect only them?

      June 10, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  5. HoppSchwiiiz

    I read her story she had been dreaming of doing this since she was 13 years old...WOW so three whole years her life long dream of sailing the ocean alone lasted. And then at 16 she ventures out and something happens. I agree with what most people are saying, who the hell are the parents that let a girl at 16 go out alone and fullfil this three year long dream....why couldn't she do it when she was 20 and a little bit more experienced in boating?!

    June 10, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  6. lisarogers86

    If she truly had problems and sent out the distress signal because of it, unless they find her very soon, there's a good chance she'll never be found. It's sad, but if the boat sinks in the middle of the Indian Ocean, there will be nothing to find, and they most likely won't recover her either. The ocean is just too large. Hoping that she's ok and they just haven't spotted her yet.

    June 10, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  7. lilaclee

    Is this the same 16 year old that ran away from home when they tried to stop her from sailing? I hope they find her alive.

    June 10, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • TNGirl

      No, that was Laura Dekker. She still plans to sail around the world this September.

      June 10, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Scrotum

    Can't imagine being lost in the middle of the ocean all alone. Why in the world her parents would allow her to do this is beyond me. Guess that wasn't such a great idea, huh?

    June 10, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Kat

    sharks too!!!

    June 10, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Spanish Inquisition

    Hope all is well with her. Personally I think she's too young to go at it alone.

    Just wondering if we can pin this on BP ?

    June 10, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  11. tricia

    Agree w just me. A 14-15 y.o. brain is not mature enough to judge risk accurately...many studies about young drivers/unnecessary deaths have shown that the areas of the brain involved in this type of decision making do not mature until late teens/20'S. Parents abdicated their responsibility here...very sad but true. Common sense tells us this young teen's "dream" should have been aborted by wise adults who then directed her energies elsewhere. Life is way too precious to be carelessly wasted on extreme risk adventures; her parents had the deciding vote and they blew it.

    June 10, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  12. boocat

    One gutsy girl!!! Hope they find her well.

    June 10, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  13. deeb

    WOW. She's missing between Africa and Australia. That's a lot of sea! I still don't know what the parents were thinking letting her do this at all. At least after she had trouble back in April, they should have made sure she was at least shadowed the rest of the way. This family will be doubting themselves for the rest of their lives if she isn't found safe.

    June 10, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
  14. James

    Her parents should be sued for allowing this. She is a minor and under their care and should not even be allowed to travel to other countries alone. Letting her sail around the world alone in a small boat is very stupid. They get what they deserve.

    June 10, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
  15. PatrickUSA

    We all saw this coming. The parents have some screws loose to allow their teenager to try this. What, did they think it would be smooth seas with a soft breeze all the way? Everyone knows that teenagers do not have the mental capacity to understand all the consequences, and the dangers, of their actions – that's what parents are for – to keep them from doing dumb and dangerous things. To allow thier daughter to do this suggests that they will never accept that they are responsible for her being out there and its consequences. What self-indulged idiots.

    June 10, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
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