A ‘land, air and sea’ team effort to save the life of a French yachtsman, trapped in an overturned 12m keelboat with just 30cm of air, has been described as “a rescue on the edge of the impossible” by the Maritime Rescue and Safety Society of Spain.
Laurent Camprubi, aged 62, endured 16 hours in the water after his yacht capsized 14 miles from the Sisargas Islands, near Spain’s north-west Galicia region, but survived by using an air bubble in a cabin.
A distress signal was sent by his boat at 2023 local time on 1 August.
The sea was rough and night had fallen, so the divers aboard the Salvamento Marítimo rescue ship that responded attached buoyancy balloons to the boat to stop it from sinking and waited until morning.
Rescuers have described the euphoria of hearing banging from inside the hull after a diver was winched onto the upturned vessel to seek signs of life.
Yachtsman Laurent Camprubi has thanked the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) Finisterre controllers, Ardentia Marine divers from the Fene base and Babcock-based pilots and rescuers of the Helimer helicopter.
He said: “Thank you, thank you, thank you. From inside the ship I heard the Maritime Rescue helicopter fly overhead. I knew I was here and that they were going to rescue me, that they were not going to leave me alone. It was about time. I had to survive for myself and my family.”
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Rodrigo Piñeiro Gil, the boss of Salvamar Betelgeuse Search and Rescue (SAR) vessel said: “Our biggest fear was that it might sink. After a few frantic hours and having secured the boat, once the divers managed to get the survivor to the surface, the tiredness vanished suddenly and I could only feel emotion.”
SAR sailor Pablo Fole said: “We had a bit of a hard job, not knowing for sure if the missing person was in there, the constant rocking and the accumulation of hours that were adding up little by little.”
He described the lengthy rescue effort as “16 agonising hours for him and intense for us” and the moment Laurent appeared from under the boat, as turning “from despair to happiness in a second, thus removing all the fatigue that we had accumulated over us, as if it was a shot of adrenaline.”
Helimer 402 Babcok rescuer Guillermo Lavía said: “It was the most emotional mission of my almost 15 years in the service, I swear, me and the castaway climbing the crane! He had recognised my voice from the screaming the night before.”
Divers from Ardentia Marine, Antonio Gómez and Andrés Pita said: “Our main objective was to verify that the castaway was alive and responding to our signals. Hitting the hull, he immediately responded with screams and blows. The emotion skyrocketed, and through a mixture of French and English, we managed to reassure him with these words: ‘Doucement’ (calm down) ‘Rescue team’.”
Once they were sure the yacht was buoyant they started to dive from the stern, with minimal visibility, many obstructions and using flashlights to explore the interior, they spotted red boots of a flotation suit to the left of the cabin entrance:
“The immediate reaction was to touch a boot and the foot was instantly withdrawn. We put a boat hook into the area, the man grabbed it and at once a face with open eyes appeared. He pushed towards us with great temperance, we grabbed him and we were dodging the ropes until we pulled him to the surface.
“When he came to the surface, he grabbed his sailboat, looked around smiling and we told him: ‘Don’t worry, now helicopter for you.'”
Juan Ferrer, head of SAR Operations and LCC of Maritime Rescue, added: “I think that in addition to the extensive deployment by land, air and sea, it has been very important that the crew member was very well prepared.
“He was wearing special equipment that has prevented hypothermia and has allowed him to endure 16 hours in the water. In addition to knowledge that has made him wait calmly for our arrival.”
The yachtsman was flown to land and checked over at hospital, his boat was towed to a safe place as it represented a danger to navigation.