A 16-year-old Southern California girl attempting a solo sail around the world was feared in trouble Thursday thousands of miles from land in the frigid, heaving southern Indian Ocean after her emergency beacons began signaling and communication was lost.
Australian Maritime Safety Authority spokeswoman Carly Lusk said three vessels were sent from the French territory of Reunion Island and an aircraft was to depart from Perth on a four-hour flight to Abby Sunderland's location more than 2,000 miles from both Africa and Australia.
It was not clear when the vessels left, but it would take a day for the nearest ship to reach the area. Reunion Island is off Madagascar, the very large island along the east coast of Africa.
Conditions can quickly become perilous for any sailor exposed to the elements in that part of the world.
Charlie Nobles, executive director of the American Sailing Association, said the best-case scenario would be that she had had a severe knockdown or roll by a strong wave that caused her communication equipment to go out, or the boat sustained structural damage that was preventing her from sailing.
The worst case would be if she was in the water or in her life raft.
"It's an extreme set of conditions with the winds, the force of the waves," he said.
A person lost at sea can typically survive 12 days on average without fresh water and a month without food, according to survival experts.
If the boat capsized, survival will depend on factors including water temperature, sea conditions, safety gear and whether there was something to hold on to.
Last year a Netherlands court concerned about safety blocked a 13-year-old girl's plan to sail around the world, sparking debate on the role of authorities and parents when children want to undertake risky adventures.
Such attempts have resulted in success and tragedy.
Last month, 13-year-old Jordan Romero of Big Bear, Calif., became the youngest person to scale 29,035-foot Mount Everest. But in 1996, 7-year-old Jessica Dubroff, her father and a flight instructor were killed in a crash in Cheyenne, Wyo., during her attempt to become the youngest person to fly across the country.
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