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Airliner Diverted to Locate Aussie Sailor in Distress

posted: 11/2/2012
TORONTO (AP) -- An Air Canada passenger flight bound for Sydney helped pinpoint the location of a yacht in trouble off the coast of Australia.            

A solo yachtsman left Pittwater, on Sydney’s northern beaches, during the first week of October, heading for Eden on the New South Wales south coast. After encountering trouble and drifting about 270 nautical miles out to sea, he activated his emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) Oct. 16.            

Because of the remote location, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority asked two airliners passing over the man’s GPS position to confirm his whereabouts.            

An Air Canada Boeing 777 flying from Vancouver diverted from its course to check on the distressed yacht. Air Canada said its plane descended to about 4,000 feet while the crew peered out, using binoculars borrowed from passengers.            

Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said Oct. 16 the crew and a number of passengers aboard flight AC033 spotted the boat and advised authorities of its location. He said the yachtsman was subsequently rescued. Fitzpatrick said the airline commends the crew and passengers.            

“The pilots immediately determined they had sufficient fuel to undertake this, and headed out to the remote area, which was over fairly rough seas,” Fitzpatrick said. “After apprising the customers on board that we would assist, as we were the only aircraft in the immediate vicinity, all on board became involved in the search efforts.            

“The crew borrowed binoculars from customers and also engaged those sitting on the right-hand side of the aircraft to help look,” Fitzpatrick added. “As our aircraft flew over the area at 4,000 feet, a reflection from a mirror shining upward was spotted and the crew saw the yacht in question, demasted with a person standing -- which was confirmed by a number of passengers.”

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