Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sailor Seconds From Death

The last man to make it to safety when a trimaran capsized off the Otago coast yesterday said he came within a second of losing his life. Fred Le Peutrec, 42, was the last of three crewmen on deck to make it to the hatch into the stricken trimaran's cabin. Moments earlier, the French round-the-world trimaran Groupama 3 capsized, 80 nautical miles (148km) off the Otago coast. All of the vessel's 10 crew were rescued by helicopters scrambled from as far afield as Te Anau and Christchurch. LePeutrec was the only one to get wet. "It was not a particular wave," he told The Press last night, describing the moment when the port hull split apart after weeks of wear and tear. "It just broke like this - bang."
Groupama 3
The experienced adventure sailor scrambled across the deck to make it into the cabin. "I was running along like a survivor guy," he said. "You never know, it could have been all over one second later." He followed fellow crewmen Jan Dekker and Franck Proffit, who was steering at the time, into the hatch. Once all the crew were inside the cabin they kept busy, Le Peutrec said. A 15-litre gas bottle was quickly thrown overboard to avoid a possible explosion. "We were busy. We had to organise for the boat and the gas bottle, and to organise the rescue.
A rescue helicopter lifts a sailor from the Groupama 3 trimaran.
"Everything was organised in a way because we thought about it before." Le Peutrec later spoke with his wife in France who said simply: "Thank God you are here." The 10 crewmen were upbeat, despite the failure of their bid for yachting glory in the Jules Verne Challenge to break the record of 50 days to sail around the world. The skipper, Franck Cammas, said they were very lucky the capsize happened where it did, rather than in the icy Southern Ocean. "With these big boats, when they capsize, it can be very dangerous, but I'm happy." The rescue was complicated by the fact that none of the Dunedin-based rescue helicopters were in the region when the mayday went out. Despite that, Cammas was delighted with the job done by the three helicopters from further away.

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