Sixteen-year-old Abby Sunderland, who lost contact with her family yesterday during her attempt to circumnavigate the globe, has been found alive and in her boat after a tense search effort during which some feared the worst.
According the the Wall Street Journal, a Qantas airliner sent by the Australian government spotted Sunderland late yesterday, and was able to make radio contact. Qantas spokesman Tom Woodward says, "Abby's in an okay condition; the yacht's damaged but it's seaworthy. She's aware that there are other boats on the way to her location." These boats, sent from the French island of Reunion, are expected to reach her Saturday. Weather conditions remain difficult, but Sunderland told searchers she had a space heater and more than two weeks' worth of food, and that she was "doing fine" as she waited for help.
Commenters on the Times of London's website are already blaming Sunderland - pictured above before she left on her voyage in January - for touching off a difficult rescue effort — says one, "it annoys me [...] to think that rescue services then put *their* lives at risk all because some silly kid fancied a jaunt in a boat and her parents didn't have the wit to dissuade her." And another: "If it was my tax payers money paying to save her I would be very irritated." It's not clear whether this commenter would prefer that Sunderland simply drift in a broken boat (her father reports that her "rigging is down") in the Indian Ocean until she starves to death. But Internet naysayers aren't alone — Australian sailor Ian Kiernan says Sunderland shouldn't have been in the Indian Ocean during the Southern Hemisphere's winter in the first place. He tells the Journal, "Abby would be going through a very difficult time, with mountainous seas and essentially hurricane-force winds."
Sunderland's father, however, dismisses the notion that his daughter should never have attempted her trip. He told CBS's Early Show,
It wasn't an easy decision to let Abigail go out on the ocean; she had to prove herself in many ways before she embarked on this trip. [...] But she's proven to us with what she's told us in some of the conversations we had in South Africa [where she had to make a stop when her autopilot failed], that she's extremely resilient and more than qualified to undertake this trip. And also how she's handled the situation she's in right now is another reason that you can be rest assured that she's more than qualified to survive and succeed out there.
The timing may not have been ideal, but there's still something inspiring about Sunderland's journey. Even if she doesn't make it around the globe, she'll be able to go through her life knowing she survived storms on the Indian Ocean at the age of sixteen — and that has to be a pretty big source of confidence. Whether the French and Australian governments should subsidize this confidence with their rescue efforts is a legitimate question, but maybe we all have an interest in supporting those who do what we would only dream of. And no matter how we judge her trip, it's a relief to know that she's okay.
Teen Sailor Found Alive And Well In Indian Ocean [WSJ]
Rescue Plane Locates Teenage Girl Sailing Solo [NYT]
Missing 16-Year-Old Solo Sailor Abby Sunderland Found Alive And Well [Guardian]
Teenage Round-The-World Sailor Abby Sunderland Found Alive [TimesOnline]
Abby's Parents: She's More Than Qualified [CBS]