Yachtsman celebrates rescue at sea

 

THE British solo yachtsman, Tony Bullimore, was celebrating being alive last night after being plucked from the Southern Ocean in a dramatic sea rescue.

The 56 year old sailor was entombed for four days and nights in the upturned hull of his stricken vessel in icy seas hundreds of miles from land as a massive recovery operation, hampered by atrocious conditions, edged towards him.

Reliving the ordeal from the sick bay of the Australian rescue frigate, HMAS Adelaide, he admitted he had almost given up hope as he cowered in pitch darkness in a makeshift hammock in his cabin as the waters slowly rose.

Relying on nibbles of chocolate sips of water and pure determination to survive, he said his despair was finally ended when he heard the sound of banging and then the voice of a navy diver.

"When I saw the ship standing there and the plane going overhead and a couple of guys peering over the top of the upturned hull it was heaven, absolute heaven.

"I really, really never thought I would reach that far. I was starting to look back over my life and was thinking, `Well, I've had a good life, I've done most of the things I had wanted to.'"

"If I was picking words to describe it, it would be a miracle, an absolute miracle."

Back home in Bristol, his wife Lalel and family greeted news of his survival with unrestrained joy.

Mrs Bullimore said: "His first words were, `I love you.' I am just happy and relieved it is all over," she said.

"I am very, very happy and Tony is over the moon.

It later emerged that Mr Bullimore is to be awarded an HMS Hurricane Trophy for yachtsman who have shown outstanding seamanship, sportsmanship and courage at sea.

The British Prime Minister, Mr John Major, speaking during his tour of India, said: "I think that is an absolutely extraordinary story. It is quite wonderful news. I am absolutely delighted about it."

Despite losing a part of his little finger, suffering mild hypothermia, dehydration and frostbite, the adventurer was relatively unscathed after more than 100 hours adrift.

Rescuers had scoured the seas since Sunday, when the Exide Challenger pitched over in high winds, 900 miles from Antarctica, after suffering a broken keel.

Mr Bullimore sought refuge in the sleeping quarters and rescue finally came when the frigate, guided through poor visibility and growing winds by an Australian Air Force Orion aircraft, reached him.

He described the horrific conditions he had endured for so long in the creaking shell of the boat.

"You've got about two thirds of the hull filled with water. There was a hole in the bottom of the hull, in fact really at the top, where one of the windows had come out, and it caused a vacuum.

"The hole caused water to be sucked in and out at a colossal rate, causing a kind of Niagara Falls, but upside down.

"I had to find myself a spot as high up as possible and put nets around it so that I could crawl in there and lash myself in to get out of the water and to get away from everything," he said.

Time after time he dived through the freezing ocean to lash his liferaft to the boat so that rescuers would not be misled into thinking he was dead if they spotted it adrift and give up the search.