Round-the-world French yachtsman rescued
The gravely injured French sailor who was participating in the round-the-world Vendee Globe race would have died at sea if help arrived any later, says doctor.
SYDNEY – A gravely injured French sailor plucked from his yacht in the Southern Ocean by the Australian navy would have died at sea without help, the doctor first aboard his vessel said Sunday.
Solo yachtsman Yann Elies, 34, was pulled from his 60-foot yacht Generali off Western Australia late Saturday, as he lay there in agony, tossed around in rough waters two days after breaking his leg.
David McIlroy, a doctor with Australia's Royal Flying Doctor Service, was the first person to reach the Frenchman after a small party from the naval frigate HMAS Arunta boarded the yacht.
He found Elies lying on his bunk in great pain, unable to move freely and with limited water supplies on board as the boat was tossed in a four-metre swell.
"I was first in to see Yann," McIlroy told AFP. "And you could just see in Yann's eyes and in his face - he couldn't really contain his happiness, he was over the moon."
McIlroy said the Frenchman had only a half-empty 600 millilitre bottle of Coca-Cola to sustain him and would have died if he had not been given medical assistance soon.
"You don't last long on 300ml of sugary water," he said.
"Had he not been reached he would definitely have died at sea; there's no two ways about that. He couldn't reach his medical kit which was two metres from him, he couldn't reach food."
McIlroy said Elies was mentally and physically exhausted from his ordeal but able to speak and eat and said "all he wanted to be now was at shore".
He said the Frenchman had a badly broken femur, which required straightening before he could be transferred to the naval frigate, as well as fractured ribs and possible lung damage and remained in a serious but stable condition.
The commanding officer of the HMAS Arunta, Stephen Bowater, said Elies, who had been competing in the round-the-world Vendee Globe race, was looking forward to being on land after so long at sea.
He said the Arunta would likely arrive in the Western Australian port of Fremantle on Monday afternoon but this depended on the weather and on Elies' health.
Earlier, the Arunta's executive officer, Lieutenant-Commander Simon Howard, said Elies was in good spirits and he had been in contact with his wife and children.
Elies was in eighth place when he was forced to abandon the race on Thursday about 800 nautical miles south of the Australian coast after he fell and broke his leg when a huge wave slammed into the boat as he was changing a sail.
The rescue is not the first time Australian forces have saved Vendee Globe racers. They went to the aid of Briton Tony Bullimore and Frenchman Thierry Dubois in the 1996-97 race.
Bowater said his 100-strong crew had made personal sacrifices to undertake the potentially dangerous mission at short notice and be away from their families near to the Christmas holiday.
But he said they were all delighted that they had been able to save Elies' life.
"The guys were expecting to miss Christmas to rescue a mate a sea," Bowater told AFP.
The Arunta has also delivered diesel to another yacht in the race, that of Briton Mike Golding, whose 18-metre Ecover was dismasted in a storm two days ago, organisers said.
Golding was unhurt but was low on fuel needed to get to Fremantle.
Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon praised the navy's actions.
"Australia has an international obligation to carry out search-and-rescue operations in our assigned area, which is one of the world's largest areas of responsibility, and we will continue to do so," he said.
Thirty yachts began the gruelling round-the-world classic, which is held every four years, from the French Atlantic port of Les Sables d'Olonne on 9 November, but 12 have now abandoned the race.
Race organisers have said Elies' empty yacht would be allowed to drift until a crew from Team Generali arrived by motor launch to collect it and sail back to Southern Australia.
[AFP / Expatica]