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French yachtsman lifted from liferaft in Southern Ocean

by Peter Campbell on 21 Jan 2013
Orion entering harbour during previous voyage Peter Campbell
After three days drifting in a life raft in the Southern Ocean south of Tasmania, French round-the-world solo sailor Alain Delord has been rescued by a Zodiac crew from the Antarctic cruise ship Orion.

Delord set off a distress beacon on Friday after his 11-metre yacht, Tchouk Tchouk Nougaton, was dismasted in bad weather, 500 nautical miles off Tasmania's south-west coast. The jagged end of the rig then apparently holed the hull.

The 63-year-old abandoned ship and took to the Southern Ocean in his life raft, his distress signal being picked up by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and the cruise ship PV Orion.

The Orion, which was scheduled to visit Macquarie Island as part of an Antarctic expedition, made a 50-hour diversion to come to the Frenchman's aid, rescuing him Delord about 9:30pm (AEDT) last night.

AMSA coordinated the rescue and said Mr Delord 'was recovered safely and without injury'.

'He is currently receiving medical attention and early indications are that he is healthy,' an AMSA statement said. 'Weather conditions were better than expected and there was plenty of light in the area.'

This morning the Orion’s captain, Mike Taylor told ABC News Breakfast: 'Following the initial distress AMSA found him with a plane and then set up a relay so that they had somebody overhead pretty much all the time.

'The raft he was in from the yacht was pretty small and he didn't have any food or water, and he just had a marine band radio, which the battery died on after a day.

'So they dropped him another raft with food and water, and also with an aviation band radio so he was able to talk to an interpreter in the plane.

'When we got up to him - I mean, conditions were pretty bad. We had 25 knots of wind from the north-west.

'There was a long swell from the south-west, you know, probably about 3.5m to 4m, and the cloud ceiling was probably only 500 feet.

'We couldn't have done it without guidance from the planes.'

In a statement on Facebook, Orion expedition leader Don McIntyre said that when the ship reached the area he was ' amazed to see the raft just 20 metres from us, sitting in calm water in the lee of the ship with Alain waving.'

McIntyre, a widely experience round-the-world sailor himself who lives in southern Tasmania, said he gave the go-ahead for the Zodiac to drop into the water and intercept the life raft.

'The raft was drifting to the bow as the ship was being pushed by the 30kt wind ... the Zodiac ripped past, they grabbed him and pulled Alain into the Zodiac; then Steve, the driver, quickly brought the bow of the Zodiac to the side gate (of the Orion), all the while water lapping at the entrance and some coming below,' he said.

'I passed the hauling line over and we attached it to Alain's harness and hauled him into the side of the ship ... then the recovery team took him from behind us and moved him to the hospital where the doctor and [expedition leader] Margie [McIntyre] were waiting.'

The ship is now on its way to Hobart.

Video: AMSA spokeswoman Jo Meehan discusses Alain Delord's rescue from the Southern Ocean. (Facebook: Orion Expedition Cruises) (ABC News)
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