Cheeki Rafiki crew presumed lost mid-Atlantic

Disaster for Beneteau 40.7 on routine delivery back to the UK

Monday May 19th 2014, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Our thoughts go out to the family of the crews of Cheeki Rafiki, which appears to have been lost with all four of her crew, between the USA and the Azores, on a delivery trip back to the UK from Antigua Sailing Week.

The Beneteau 40.7, operated by Stormforce Coaching in Southampton, was a regular participant in races both in the UK and the Caribbean.

The boat got into difficulties on Thursday when she started taking on water. At the time her crew reported that although they hadn’t identified the source of the leak their position was “stable”, and they were heading for the Azores. Unfortunately, in the early hours of Friday morning, contact was lost with the vessel.

Oddly the alert was not raised for the missing vessel by the US Coastguard until 12.30 (presumably Eastern Time or 1730 in the UK) on Friday which according to the US Coastguard is when they received the distress messages from two 406MHz personal locator beacons registered to Cheeki Rafiki.

The US Coastguard duly instigated a search operation. This involved an HC-130 Hercules out of U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City in North Carolina, a U.S. Air Force C-130 aircraft, from Moody Air Force Base, in Valdosta, Georgia and a Canadian air national guard C-130 aircraft. On the water, the nearest ships Teesta Spirit, Georgia Highway and Maersk Kure were diverted to assist. The search area was estimated to be 4,146 square miles for the missing yacht.

The US Coastguard subsequently reported that at 1200 (again Eastern time) on Saturday the Maersk Kure had located an upturned hull that matched the description of the Cheeki Rafiki, but no sign of the sailors or any life on board. The weather in the vicinity at the time was 30 knots with 13 to 15-foot seas. Yesterday (Sunday) the US Coastguard called off the search for the missing crew.

"We appreciate the assistance of the U.S. Air Force, Canada and the three merchant vessels helping us to conduct a thorough search so far from shore," said Capt. Anthony Popiel, 1st Coast Guard District Chief of Response. "We are extremely disappointed that we were not able to locate the sailors during the course of this extensive search. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families during this difficult time."

However Doug Innes, Principal and Director at Stormforce Coaching, felt that the US S&R authorities had been premature in calling off the search. While there was no signs of life from the upturned hull, what if the crew had been able to take to their liferaft and were still drifting around? "Although the search efforts co-ordinated by Boston were exceptional, we are devastated that the search has been called off so soon after the abandonment to a liferaft," said Innes. "Our thoughts are with the four yachtsmen and their families and we hope and pray for them all."

The four delivery crew on board Cheeki Rafiki were Andrew Bridge, 21, James Male, 23, Paul Goslin, 56 and Steve Warren, 52.

If the report from the Maersk Kure was correct and the upturned hull they discovered was indeed that of Cheeki Rafiki, then it would indicate that the yacht lost her keel. The question that remains unresolved was whether or not the crew had managed to successfully take to the yacht’s liferaft by the time that occurred.

To sign a petition to encourage the US authorities to resume the search - click here

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