New Delhi, India: A solo Indian sailor adrift thousands of kilometres from dry land with a serious back injury was safely rescued from his stricken yacht Monday after an international effort.
Abhilash Tomy, a competitor in the Golden Globe round-the-world race, was badly injured during a storm that damaged his vessel and put its mast out of action in the Indian Ocean on Friday.
Adrift some 3,500 kilometres (2,200 miles) from western Australia, the 39-year-old navy commander had been confined to his bunk and unable to move.
But Indian and Australian officials said a French fisheries patrol vessel involved in the international rescue mission had found the sailor "in a stable condition".
"A sense of relief to know that naval officer @abhilashtomy is rescued by the French fishing vessel. He's conscious and doing okay," Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman posted on Twitter.
The French vessel Osiris reached Tomy's yacht at 0530 GMT as Australian and Indian P8 Poseidon aircraft kept watch from above, race organisers said.
The French crew boarded Tomy's yacht Thuriya using inflatable boats and administered first aid.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said Tomy would be transferred to a nearby Indian Ocean island, Ile Amsterdam, for medical treatment.
An Indian naval ship would later transfer Tomy to Mauritius, according to Sitharaman.
Rescuers had been unable to make direct contact with Tomy as his main satellite phone was damaged, and his injury meant he was unable to reach a second satellite phone or his handheld VHF radio.
Damaged and dismasted
Fears had been growing for Tomy's safety as conditions can be treacherous, with strong winds and high waves buffeting the yacht and rescue vessels.
His yacht had been rolled 360 degrees during a "vicious" storm and dismasted, race organisers said Monday.
AMSA search and rescue mission coordinator Phil Gaden said equipment was hanging from the yacht. Although it was upright and floating, it was at the mercy of the sea and could have been compromised at any moment.
As the days wore by, his family grew increasingly concerned for the experienced yachtsman.
"Abhilash has done long voyages before, but we remained in touch through satellite phones and internet chats," his wife Urmi told the Indian newspaper Business Standard before his rescue.
"The separation on this voyage has been tough. But all that matters now is to rescue him unharmed."
The Golden Globe Race involves a gruelling 30,000-mile solo circumnavigation of the globe in yachts similar to those used in the first race 50 years ago, with no modern technology allowed except the communications equipment.
Tomy's own yacht is a replica of Robin Knox-Johnston's Suhaili, winner of the first Golden Globe Race.
Race organisers said another competitor, 32-year-old Irish skipper Gregor McGuckin, had chartered a course for Tomy even though his own vessel had been dismasted in the same storm.
He was not in distress but had radioed for a controlled evacuation and was in touch with reconnaissance aircraft.
He would also be rescued by the Osiris and the two sailors would be taken to Ile Amsterdam, where the hospital is equipped with X-ray and ultrasound equipment, said a statement on the Golden Globe Race website.
Tomy helped train the all-woman crew of the Indian Navy’s sailing vessel Tarini, which created history by circumnavigating the globe in a gruelling 254-day voyage.
"He has been an inspiration and hope for millions of Indians who dream big and want to achieve their goals," Lieutenant Commander Vartika Joshi, one of the Tarini's crew, told the Hindustan Times newspaper.