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Friday, December 26, 2008

A survival and rescue 10 years ago

Here's an incredible survival and rescue story that had happened to the American sailor, John Campbell, 10 years ago in Australia during the yearly Sydney to Hobart yacht race. The Sydney Morning Herald article was written by Jacquelin Magnay.
The race of 1998 was John Campbell's third Sydney to Hobart. It was supposed to be third time lucky for the American sailor as he was on a boat that had torn a sail in the 1992 race and then another that broke a rudder in the 1993 race.
Here's what happened on the afternoon of December 27, 1998 on the Kingurra, "a sturdy boat that had started and finished the epic race 14 times." Mr. Campbell was "in the cockpit as the sea got bigger and bigger".
Every now and again a large breaking wave would smash the boat, but there was no real panic until a monster rogue wave much larger than the others emerged from nowhere and broke right on top of the boat and rolled her just shy of 180 degrees. Campbell and another crew man were knocked overboard, Campbell cracking his head against the boat.
Now in his own recall:

"I have been told that the other crewman quickly got back on board but I was a dead weight and unconscious. [Skipper] Peter Joubert was trying to haul me back by my harness, but with my layers of gear, my boots full of water, I weighed 300 pounds or so. More and more of the crew tried to drag me back in, and they were tugging and tugging and the harness slipped off over my head," he said.

"I was face down floating away but after 10 seconds or so the crew saw me raise my hand up and start to tread water and saw me kick my boots off.

"But my first memory is seeing the Kingurra at least a quarter, maybe a half mile away. It was like waking up out of dream and I started debating with myself whether this was reality or a dream, but I quickly realised I was in real trouble. I didn't know how I got there but I was in big trouble."

According the the writer Magnay "Campbell said his memory of that time is a series of images and snapshots. But he noticed he just had his underwear on and the waves were enormous. He later discovered that one of the waves was calculated at 45 metres."

Hey 45 m is a real biggie. I really like to know how they did the calculation.

Back to Campbell's recall:

"The boat was a long way off in the distance. It looked like they were sailing back and forth. I was waving my arms and raising to the top of the wave and waving - there was no sense of time, it was so intense with the massive waves. I didn't have any time for reflection, except to know it was pretty grim. Hundreds of times at the top of the wave I would see the boat and say, 'Please see me' and I was swimming in that direction.

"I remember seeing a helicopter flying away and it was a sinking feeling: 'Oh no, they've missed me' - but then they came back. They were hovering nearby and then they veered off and I was waving and waving, and one of the guys, Barry Barclay [see story below], caught me out of the corner of his eye - the sight of me frantically waving at the top of a wave. It was a good feeling. Thankfully, I have never had that sheer terror, nor that sheer elation, to that degree again. I do remember David [Key] popping up in front of me. I had been swimming, swimming, being crushed by wave after wave and all of a sudden this guy is right in front of me.

"We were tumbling around, wrestling with the harness and the waves and falling down and being crushed - and then all of sudden, we were jerked out and hoisted up. I think I nearly fell out at the top when the winch froze. Barry reached out and down to grab me by my underwear and hauled me in. I remember how David and I were both coughing up water and I was trying to say thank you over and over. I was utterly exhausted and I was completely gone."
O.K. that's a wonderful happy ending. But it was not that straight forward:

Campbell says the helicopter crew - of the Victoria Police Air Wing - did not tell him about the low fuel reserves and their concerns about having to ditch at sea. He was tethered to a life raft on board.

"But I was blissfully unaware of the situation," he said.

He was also unaware that the news of his rescue had already reached Seattle. His then girlfriend, now wife, Lucie, and his parents, Wally and Sally, had been told he was in a helicopter having been rescued.

His parents were so grateful to the rescue operation they donated a sizeable sum to the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, which began the Safety of Life At Sea Trust.

And Magnay concludes:
Campbell, now a father of two and an IT engineer, said: "The reality is I don't know if it changed me that much. But I have a marked appreciation for life and I think about it nearly every day of my life and it has been 10 years … it does give me pause to think when things get stressful."
That's a really heart warming story for the day after Christmas. He certainly has something to tell his children and grandchildren. They better believe it. Not everyone can survive as he did in the "furious ocean for over 40 minutes of fighting to stay afloat, alone, with no lifejacket" and "having had his jaw and cheek bones shattered." Some might attribute it to sheer luck. But we would like to think that his guardian angel must had done a great job. Thanks for a great post-Christmas story!

A final thought: may be here again they should all wear a helmet onboard!

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