Airline passengers thrilled by role in yacht rescue
The diversion might have made them late landing in Sydney, but airline passengers have revelled in the excitement of helping to rescue a yacht drifting away from the NSW coast.
Two commercial jets were called in by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) on Tuesday morning to assist in the search for a missing yachtsman, after he activated an emergency beacon about 270 nautical miles out to sea.
The 44-year-old left Pittwater, on Sydney's northern beaches, for Eden on the NSW south coast two weeks ago.
The solo yachtsman Glenn Ey ran into trouble and activated his emergency beacon at about 8am (AEDT) on Tuesday, after he ran low on fuel and began drifting in a "remote" area of the ocean.
An Air Canada Boeing 777 flying from Vancouver received a call from Brisbane at 8.18am, and diverted from its course to check on the distressed yacht.
Captain Andrew Robertson said once he determined he had enough fuel to land the plane safely in Sydney after diverting to search for the yacht, he swooped down to 5,000 feet and reduced speed while the crew peered out using binoculars borrowed from passengers.
"As we got to about two to three miles of this yacht, the first officer said 'there it is, I see it," Captain Robertson said on Wednesday.
"I was amazed.
"We didn't know if we were looking for a sunken boat or one that was still floating."
Captain Robertson circled around once more at 3700 feet for a closer look to see if anyone was on board.
They spotted a reflection mirror and a man standing beside a broken mast.
Captain Robertson said the search was the first of his aviation career.
"A lot of passengers said it was very exciting to be involved in a search like this," he said.
An Air New Zealand A320, heading to Sydney from Auckland, was also enlisted to help in the search and rescue.
The yachtsman was recovered about 270 nautical miles off the coast of Sydney at midnight (AEDT) on Tuesday by NSW Water Police.
"Due to strong swells and high seas they are expected to arrive in Sydney early tomorrow (Thursday) morning," police said in a statement.
An AMSA spokeswoman said the sailor didn't have any injuries and was in "good spirits".
"He may receive medical assistance when he arrives at port, but that is up to police," she told AAP.
His yacht, however, won't be coming home with him.
The AMSA spokeswoman said it was either too damaged or weather conditions did not allow for its retrieval.
She said the rescue highlighted the importance of having a distress beacon fitted with a GPS, which enabled authorities to locate boats within seconds rather than hours.
It is not known if the man is an experienced yachtsman.