Coast Guard statement on search suspension

Published on May 19th, 2014

Petitions and pleas melted social media channels as news carried concerning the halted search for four Britons missing in the Atlantic after their yacht began taking in water.

The crew was delivering the Beneteau First 40.7 Cheeki Rafiki to the UK after it had competed in 2014 Antigua Sailing Week on April 26-May 2. The crew reported the leak on Thursday (May 15), and were diverting to the Azores, but contact was lost on Friday. A container ship reported on Saturday an upturned sail boat that fit the description, but was missing its keel.

The uproar now surrounds how the U.S. Coast Guard suspended the search after two days. Click here for report in UK publication The Telegraph.

U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Anthony Popiel, Chief of Response, 1st Coast Guard District in Boston has issued the following statement concerning the suspension of the search for the crew…

This morning (on Sunday, May 18), at approximately 5:00 a.m., after more than two days of search efforts, the U.S. Coast Guard suspended the international search for the crew of the sailing vessel Cheeki Rafiki.

Despite the deep considerations that go into suspending a search, the decision is never easy. With sincere compassion for the families of these four men, our thoughts and prayers are with them all during this difficult time.

It was important to the U.S. Coast Guard that these families were the first to be informed of the decision to suspend searches. I spoke personally with them and was grateful for the respect and graciousness they showed having received the devastating news that an extended effort could not bring their loved ones home.

After learning of the vessel’s distress at 12:30 a.m., Friday, watchstanders at the 1st Coast Guard District immediately began coordinating efforts by air and sea to locate the crew of the Cheeki Rafiki.

The locator beacons activated by the crew indicated they were in a position 1,000 miles east of Massachusetts as of Friday morning. Seas were 15 feet with winds surpassing 50 knots. The air temperature was 59 with the water was 60 degrees.

When conducting extended searches, the U.S. Coast Guard uses a survivability model that takes into account weather conditions, emergency equipment, and the anticipated condition of the people for whom we are searching. Based on the extreme conditions at sea, but assuming best-case emergency equipment, the estimated survival time past the time of distress was approximately 20 hours. Crews searched for 53 hours.

Air crews from North Carolina, Georgia and Canada searched an area of more than 4,000 square miles and worked with commercial liners who volunteered to assist from the sea. At approximately noon, Saturday, the crew from the 1,000-foot motor vessel Maersk Kure located an overturned hull that matched the description of the Cheeki Rafiki, but could not find any sign of the sailors. Air and sea crews continued to search throughout the afternoon and night and into the next morning for any small indication of debris or search objects.

After more than two days of searching and no indication of surviving crew members, the U.S. Coast Guard made the difficult decision to suspend search efforts.

We will continue to provide any information we can about the search efforts and wish to extend again our deepest condolences to the family and friends of these four sailors.”

Searching were crews from:
– A U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, North Carolina, HC-130 Hercules aircraft
– A U.S. Air Force C-130 aircraft, from Moody Air Force Base, in Valdosta, Georgia
– A Canadian air national guard C-130 aircraft
– The 600-foot motor vessel Teesta Spirit
– The 652-foot motor vessel Georgia Highway
– The 1,000-foot motor vessel Maersk Kure

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