TEENAGE solo sailor Abby Sunderland is alive and well, but her boat has been dismasted, hours after a search was mounted when she encountered extremely rough weather in the Indian Ocean early on Friday.
“She’s fine, the boat’s afloat and she’s on it,” Laurence Sunderland told Australia’s ABC Radio.
“It’s huge, fantastic, exciting news.”
Mr Sunderland said Abby’s boat had been dismasted, but was not upside down.
“She’s fine, the boat’s not taking on water,” he said.
Abby had activated two emergency beacons early on Friday morning (AEST), barely minutes after telling her parents about fierce weather conditions off Australia’s west coast.
Jessica 'praying' for missing teen
THE mother of Jessica Watson says her family is praying for missing sailor and friend Abby Sunderland as an international search is mounted for the teenager.
Julie Watson said her daughter and Abby formed a friendship during Jessica's around the world trip, and they were all praying for Abby and her family.
"They've been communicating [Jessica and Abby] and we've been communicating with the family as well," Mrs Watson told the ABC.
"We heard from them this morning ... they're just waiting for information. Our hearts go out to them."
Mrs Watson said the dangers of solo sailing had been brought home to Jessica now that she was back on land.
"She just knows exactly what's going on," she said of her daughter, who was imagining what conditions were like for Abby.
"She was probably a little bit surprised about how she felt back on shore. When you're in the thick of it, she said, you don't think about it that much."
"But when you're on shore, she has a new appreciation for the stuff that we went through and also the stuff that Abby's family and her team are going through."
Earlier Jessica's spokesman Andrew Fraser said everyone was hoping for the best.
"We are hoping she's OK and are trying to stay positive," he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Australians would be hoping Abby was found safely.
Ms Gillard said her thoughts were with Abby and her family as a search and rescue mission involving Australian authorities gets under way.
"Australians, having watched the journey of Jessica around the world and back again safely will all be hoping that this young woman experiences the same journey and that she is returned home safely to her family, who are obviously very, very anxious," Ms Gillard told reporters in Sydney today.
Tough conditions for search
CONDITIONS are poor and “quite dangerous” where a US teen is believed to have hit trouble during her Jessica Watson-style sailing bid around the world.
But Australian authorities involved in the search mission say hopes are high 16-year-old Abby Sunderland will be found safe and well.
Abby was past the halfway mark of her solo sailing trip on Thursday and sailing just off Australia’s west coast when she hit trouble, activating two manual distress beacons.
A Qantas passenger jet, tasked by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, is expected to be the first on the scene about 2000 nautical miles west-south-west of Perth.
It departed at first light and is expected to arrive some time this afternoon.
“Once it gets to the position, we’re hoping they will be able to sight Abby’s yacht and make contact with her over the radio,” AMSA spokeswoman Carly Lusk told ABC Radio.
“Conditions in the area at the moment are extremely poor.
”We’re experiencing in that area 90km/h winds ... so it’s quite dangerous.“
Abby spoke to her parents in the United States just an hour before the distress beacons were activated, telling them she’d been knocked down several times due to the weather.
Several ships, co-ordinated by the international search effort which also includes French and US authorities, are on their way to the area.
Ms Lusk said as always, there was high hopes of a positive outcome.
”Going by the drift of the actual beacon in the water, we’re hoping that she is still inside the vessel which is obviously hopefully upright.“
Abby’s water-activated beacon was not set off.
Boat may be upside down
Jessica Watson's project leader Bruce Arms told local ABC radio that he believed Abby's boat had lost its keel and remained upside down.
Mr Arms said if Abby was in an air pocket she would be okay for quite some time as she waited for rescuers.
"I think she will be just thinking of surviving,'' he said when asked what the teenager would be going through.
Mr Arms said his and Jessica's thoughts were with Abby and her family, though he was confident she would get through.
"I think Jessica is pretty upset with what is going on,'' Mr Arms said.
He said Abby's boat was 'totally different' from Jessica's in that it had been built for speed, whereas Jessica's had been completely remodified to make it more stable and sturdy.
"It's probably a little more on the edge,'' he said of the American teen's boat.
Abby had a very rough day
A blog from Abby's team said she had a "very rough day with winds up to 60 knots and seas 20-25 feet. She had been knocked down several times but was handling things well.''
"The wind had subsided to around 35 knots which she and Wild Eyes are quite comfortable with.
"We were helping her troubleshoot her engine that she was trying to start to charge her systems. Satellite phone reception was patchy. She was able to get the water out of the engine and start her up.
"We were waiting to hear back from her when American Search & Rescue authorities called to report having received a signal from her emergency beacon (EPIRB).
"We initially thought that the signal was sent automatically from her water-activated EPIRB and that it had been activated during one of her knockdowns.
"As we pulled the paperwork from her EPIRB registration, we learned that the signal had come from her manually activated EPIRB.
"We were referred to Australian Search & Rescue and while we were on the phone with them another signal came in from her handheld PLB (Personal Locator Beacon). Her water-activated EPIRB has not been activated so we are hopeful that the boat is still upright.
"We are working closely with American, French and Australian Search & Rescue authorities to coordinate several ships in the area to divert to her location.
"There are several ships in her area, the earliest possible contact is 40 hours. We are actively seeking out some sort of air rescue but this is difficult due to the remoteness of her location.
"Australian Search & Rescue have arranged to have a Qantas Airbus fly over her location at first light (she is 11 hours later).
"They will not be able to help her other than to talk via marine radio if they are able to get close enough. Hopefully, they will be able to assess her situation and report back to us.
All the right equipment for crisis
"Abby has all of the equipment on board to survive a crisis situation like this. She has a dry suit, survival suit, life raft, and ditch bag with emergency supplies.
"If she can keep warm and hang on, help will be there as soon as possible.
"Wild Eyes is designed for travel in the Southern Ocean and is equipped with 5 air-tight bulkheads to keep her buoyant in the event of major hull damage. It is built to Category 0 standards and is designed to self-right in the event of capsize.''