More than 20 crew on board a racing yacht have been rescued after it capsized off the Irish coast.
The US registered racing boat, Rambler 100, was taking part in the Fastnet Race when it overturned about 12.5 miles from Baltimore, Co Cork, just after 6.30pm on Monday.
The Irish Coast Guard, which co-ordinated the rescue operation, said 16 crew members sitting on the hull of the vessel were airlifted to safety. Another five who were in a life raft were taken on board other yachts.
Ian Loffhagen, racing manager, said the yacht – skippered by George David – capsized between the Fastnet Rock and the Pantaenius Buoy. “All 21 crew have been rescued,” he added.
Some 314 yachts are taking part in the Rolex Fastnet Race and set sail from Cowes on the Isle of Wight on Sunday.
The Royal Ocean Racing Club’s biennial event takes the fleet 608 miles along the south coast of the UK, across the Celtic Sea to the Fastnet Rock off south west Ireland, before returning around the Scilly Isles to the finish in Plymouth.
The event has a fearsome reputation following the 1979 race which was devastated by strong winds and seas resulting in 15 deaths.
A spokeswoman for the Irish Coast Guard said the seas in the area were not very rough at the time of the capsize, but that the weather conditions were foggy.
The Baltimore RNLI lifeboat was first on the scene, followed by the Shannon and Waterford-based rescue helicopters and the Irish Naval vessel the LE Ciara.
The yacht’s personal locator beacon was activated when it overturned.
Follow up on the rescue.
Feel0ng lucky to be alive, Australian Mike Mottl stepped onto dry land at the pier at Baltimore, west Cork to cheers, applause and an emotional embrace.
One of five crew of the Rambler 100 to be separated from the vessel after it keeled over in heavy seas, Mr Mottl and four others spent two hours adrift before they were plucked from the water.
“I’m feeling lucky to be alive, happy to be here and it’s great to see the local people here to greet us,” Mr Mottl said as he stepped into an awaiting ambulance at the pier.
Erle Williams, from Auckland New Zealand was at the helm when disaster struck seven miles north west of the Fastnet.
“I’m sailing all my life I’ve never ended up in the water like this, it was pretty scary. We were very lucky to get out in time, the navigator put out the call just as boat was tipping over and it went over phenomenally fast,” he said.
Foggy conditions prevented other boats taking part in the race from seeing the stricken crew.
“We were yelling and hollering out to them but obviously they couldn’t see us, it was a pretty frantic time,” he said.
A number of the crew members were asleep below deck when the boat keeled over.
“Some of our guys were very lucky to get out from under the boat so we are counting out blessings,” Mr Williams said.
Michael Van Beuren (44) from Portsmouth, New Zealand said the boat capsized within 30 seconds.
“We were going upwind in heavy seas when the keel fin fractured, the seas were quite big. It is such a relief that we all made it ashore.”
Skipper and owner George David was among five crew members set adrift from the vessel. They were plucked to safety by the crew of the diving vessel, Wave Chieftan .
“We could see them drifting away, we spent two hours clinging to the boat thinking and worrying about them, they were our main concern,” Mr Van Beuren said.
Bob Wylie (48) from Lake Quarry in Australia spent two hours on the upturned keel of the yacht.
“My first priority was my own safety and then to try to help the others,” he said.
“I saw the liferaft drifting away so I threw a rope. It just couldn’t reach them and they kept drifting out to sea.”
One woman on board the vessel, the partner of vessel owner Mr David, was airlifted to safety suffering from hypothermia following the incident.
The Rambler 100 skippered by Mr David was first home in the Transatlantic Race earlier this year. The Rambler crossed the finish line on July 10th in an elapsed time of six days, 22 hours, eight minutes, two seconds.
The Rambler established a new record for the 2,975 nautical mile course from Newport, United States, to Lizard Point, South Cornwall, in Britian.
Mr David is the former chief executive of United Technologies Corporation, a conglomerate based in Hartford, Connecticut, whose vast holdings include such diverse companies as Otis Elevator, Sikorsky Helicopters, Carrier air conditioners and aerospace and industrial systems Hamilton Sudstrand. Mr David is an avid yachtsman and racer.