Thursday, February 09, 2012

Canadian Sailors Rescued From Sinking Ship In Stormy Pacific

Three Canadians whose sailboat was caught in a violent squall in the Pacific Ocean have arrived safely in Honolulu after the crew of an American container ship saved them during a dramatic night-time operation Wednesday. Amid rain and 90 kilometre-per-hour wind gusts, the rescue was made even trickier after giant waves heaved the sailboat Liahona into the freighter. The Liahona sank within seconds, forcing the three Canadians, including a nine-year boy, to swim into the cold water for up to 90 minutes. Aboard were Calgary entrepreneur Brad James and his nine-year-old son West, along with Bradley’s brother Mitchell. As their boat started taking water, Bradley heard his son say, “We’re sinking! We’re going to die!” he recalled at a televised press conference Thursday morning. “We’re not going to die. But we’re going to sink,” he told West. The trio had set sail a month ago from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, heading for Hawaii. Mitch had owned the boat for four years and the brothers grew up sailing a catamaran on a lake at the family’s cabin in Alberta. They ran into rough weather a week ago and toughed out a first storm before things got worse Tuesday. The second storm destroyed the main mast and the boat engine broke down, said family friend David Butler, who spoke to Brad after the rescue. While trying to save the mast, Mitch fell into the water. Brad got him back on board and decided to make a Mayday call. Luckily, Brad later said, the trio had a Global Positioning System device and had borrowed a satellite phone from a friend before they sailed out. They reached the U.S. Coast Guard in Hawaii and gave their GPS position. The Coast Guard asked the nearest ship, the freighter Horizon Reliance, to veer from its course. The freighter caught up with the sail boat around 2 a.m. Wednesday, about 760 kilometres east of Honolulu. At the time of the rescue, there were wind gusts of up to 90 kilometres per hour and waves swelled to 6-metre heights. The waves were washing over the Liahona, Brad recalled. As the freighter approached, signalling at the Liahona with lights, the James brothers strapped on harnesses. The initial plan was for the freighter, which is the length of a football field, to sidle along the Liahona to shield it from the wind. The Horizon crew then would use rockets to shoot rescue lines towards the sailboat and the three Canadians would be winched over to the larger ship.Suddenly, two big waves tossed the Liahona onto the bow of the Horizon Reliance. The sailboat rolled down the starboard side of the larger ship and began sinking. The Canadians jumped into the water wearing life jackets. Brad also had a life saver ring for his son. He tried to swim and push his son as he told West that “you’ll go in shock if you panic. Relax.” West, who was tucked in a ball in the life saving ring, worried that he was getting hypothermia. As a cub scout, he had been taught to recognize those symptoms. The Horizon Reliance plucked out Mitch first but it took another 90 minutes before the freighter could make another pass at the other two. Three crew members on the bridge were tasked with keeping an eye on Brad and West. Struggling in the water, Brad saw a yellow light and swam toward it, but it was only his flashlight that was bobbing in the sea. Finally, the freighter was able to throw a line at Brad and they pulled him and his son towards a ladder. With the ship heaving up and down, Brad timed his moves so he could push his son as a wave came up. Brad let go as the water came down and it felt like his son just shot up in the air. “Start climbing,” he shouted at West. “Don’t climb, we’ve got him,” the Horizon crew shouted at him as they pulled the ladder up. When it was his turn, Brad remembered seeing crew members in tears as he stepped up and saw his son safely wrapped in a blanket. Someone handed Brad a phone to call his wife. “It didn’t go exactly as planned but we’re fine,” he told her. The Horizon Reliance sailed into Honolulu shortly before 4 a.m. Hawaii time (9 p.m. Eastern time). “They’re safe and sound and in good spirits,” said Ali Nikhoo, a Horizon executive in Hawaii who met the Canadians aboard the ship. “This could be a very different day for everyone if it wasn’t for your ship and company and crew,” Ryan James, a brother of Bradley and Mitchell, said in an email to the shipping company, Horizon Lines. “I’ve spoken to my brother Brad a couple times today and heard the crazy story and rescue. He can’t tell me enough how great the captain and crew has been and the efforts you have made.”

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