2 injured sailors rescued after freak wave smashes race yacht in Pacific

Coast Guard rescues crew from damaged vessel


Two injured crew members from a yacht that ran into trouble in dangerous conditions 400 miles  off the California coast were rescued by the US Coast Guard Sunday night and were due to be flown back to San Francisco.

The Coast Guard had been waiting for a window of good weather to reach the Geraldton Western Australia yacht, one of 10 68-foot vessels competing in the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race, after it encountered rough weather in the Pacific Ocean.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Caleb Critchfield told NewsCore that the two most seriously injured sailors had been picked up by response boats from the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf.

Critchfield said the two -- identified by CNN as a 50-year-old woman and a 67-year-old man -- were expected to be flown by helicopter to San Francisco to arrive about 8:45pm local time. He added that other injured passengers would remain on board the race yacht for now.

A large wave crashed over the yacht Saturday, sweeping away its steering mounting and wheel and leaving several crew members with injuries ranging from broken ribs to back wounds.

The injured were named by race organizers as Nik Brbora, 28, Jane Hitchins, 50, and Mark Burkes, 37, from Britain; and Max Wilson, 62, from Australia.

"We were racing along in 40-60 knot gusts," the boat's skipper Juan Coetzer said in a statement released by race organizers. "The sea was alive with rage. We were making good speed, sailing with the third reef in the main, surfing at 15 to 20 knots. Then at our watch change, just before the sun came up, a monstrous foaming swell broke over our stern."

"Mark Burkes was on the helm at the time," he added. "The water had so much force in it that it pushed Mark into the helm, snapping the pedestal clean off. We had no steering and crew were falling all over the boat."

The race started in the UK and its current leg called for yachts to race to San Francisco, from Qingdao in China. The next leg of the race will see boats head to New York City via the Panama Canal.

The Gold Coast Australia was the first yacht to sail across the finish line of this leg under the Golden Gate Bridge and into Jack London Square, Oakland.