Global Ocean Race Round-the-world Chilean yachtsman, Felipe Cubillos (1962-2011), was among the 21 passengers and crew of a FACH (Chilean Air Force) plane that went missing off the Juan Fernández Islands, 515 miles off the Chilean coast on Friday 2 September. The 49 year-old sailor, entrepreneur and philanthropist was part of a group heading to the islands for an official ceremony to celebrate the completion of reconstruction work following the devastating earthquake and tsunami in February last year.
Cubillos was representing Desafío Levantemos Chile (Rise up Chile) – a charity that has been a driving force in reconstructing Chile since the national disaster in 2010 - and was travelling with five colleagues from the charity. Other passengers included representatives of the Chilean Air Force; members of the Consejo de Cultura (Cultural Advisory Department) and a team of five from Televisión Nacional de Chile (TVN).
Shortly before the CASA C-212 aircraft took off from Santiago at 13:52 on Friday, Felipe’s last public communication was via Twitter – a platform he used constantly to update progress with Desafío Levantemos Chile: 'Travelling now to the island of Juan Fernandez with the support of our Air Force. We continue to work to help the people of the island,' he tweeted. According to Grupo 10 of FACH, the plane was approaching the island having circled twice before landing. On its final approach, the plane disappeared off the radar. Strong winds were reported in the area and may be the cause for the plane’s disappearance. Two civilians that were waiting for the plane saw it circling over the runway and saw it veering away to the right. Rescue teams including a Hercules C-130 were sent to the missing plane’s last known position immediately.
As bodies were recovered by the island’s fishermen and the rescue force, it soon became clear that there would be no survivors from the flight. The Chilean Defence Minister, Andres Allamand, Felipe’s brother-in-law, explained the situation: 'Based on observations and the search we carried out with the Air Force commander, we have reached the conclusion that the impact was such that it should have resulted in the instantaneous death of all of those who were aboard the aircraft,' he stated at a press conference. The Chilean President, Sebastian Pinera, confirmed that his thoughts were with the families of those on board the plane: 'I empathise with the anguish and uncertainty of the relatives of the 21 passengers aboard the plane,' said Mr Pinera. 'This is a very hard blow for our country,' the President added. Pinera subsequently declared two days of national mourning in Chile.
Felipe Cubillos burst into the international ocean racing scene in 2008, teaming up with fellow Chilean co-skipper, Jose Muñoz, in the double-handed division of the round-the-world, Class40 Global Ocean Race 2008-09 racing the Guillaume Verdier-designed Desafio Cabo de Hornos – a yacht decorated with the distinctive body-painting designs of the Tierra del Fuego Indians. Felipe and Jose entered the record books as the first Chilean team to complete a round-the-world race – finishing the circumnavigation in second place, just two hours and 25 minutes behind the victorious German duo of Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme with Beluga Racer after 145 days, five ocean legs and 29,000 miles of racing.
The Chilean duo of Cubillos and Muñoz gained a sporting status in Chile usually reserved for football stars when they became the first Chileans to race around their country’s southernmost outpost, Cape Horn, leading the 2008-09 Global Ocean Race fleet around the cape and into the South Atlantic. While Jose Muñoz appeared to be the first Chilean to race around Cape Horn, standing by the mast of Desafio Cabo de Hornos in photographs of the event taken by the Chilean Navy, Felipe subsequently joked that he was in the forward end of the yacht’s forepeak, and, thus, really the first Chilean to race passed the landmark.
Throughout the 2008-09 GOR, Felipe was an integral part of the race competitively and through strength of personality. The text sent back from Desafio Cabo de Hornos throughout the race was entertaining, informative and often deeply philosophical and his writing was always underpinned by patriotism and a love for his country and countrymen. On shore, Felipe’s self-deprecating good humour, wit and intelligence were always the catalyst at any gathering.
Josh Hall, Race Director of the 2008-09 GOR, was devastated to hear of Felipe’s death: 'Everyone involved with the GOR 2008-09 is stunned by this cruel and tragic news,' says Hall. 'Felipe’s drive, enthusiasm for life, competitive spirit and love of his family and country were truly infectious and, personally, I have never met such an amazing person. A profound writer who shared his deepest feelings and thoughts with the world during his circumnavigation, we awaited his transmissions with great anticipation as they were a window to a great man and a great mind. A true competitor who gave his all offshore, Felipe was the most polite, supportive and inspiring character ashore – we were all certain that he would be the people’s choice if ever he decided to run for the leadership of his great country.'
Felipe’s response to the 2010 tsunami was immediate and unstoppable: 'His reaction to the disastrous earthquake suffered in Chile was to harness all of his energy and connections to immediately rebuild and bring practical aid to the hardest hit areas,' recalls Hall. 'Everything he had done throughout his life led him to this mission and he marshalled the energy of his compatriots, sweeping in relief and sustainable aid where it was most needed. One of his favourite phrases was ‘never, never give up!’ We will not give up, Felipe, and we shall be honouring your memory throughout this upcoming GOR and for the rest of our lives. It was our honour to know you and our thoughts are with your family and your many friends at this terrible time.' Global Ocean Race website