US navy found hull of missing Cheeki Rafiki yacht, sailors still missing

24 May-2014, The Guardian: The hull of the yacht Cheeki Rafiki, which went missing a week ago with four British sailors on board, has been found by the US navy, the UK Foreign Office has confirmed. Officials said there was still no sign of the missing yachtsmen and, in a further blow to hopes for their survival, the life raft had been found unused and still attached to the vessel.

US navy found hull of missing Cheeki Rafiki yacht, sailors still missing

US navy found hull of missing Cheeki Rafiki yacht, sailors still missing

Steve Warren, 52, from Bridgwater, Somerset, Andrew Bridge, 22, from Farnham in Surrey, James Male, 23, from Southampton, and Paul Goslin, 56, from West Camel, Somerset were sailing in a treacherous stretch of ocean from a regatta in Antigua to Southampton on 16 May when their yacht capsized and they went missing.

A Foreign Office spokesman said it was keeping in close contact with the US coast guard (USCG), which made the discovery in the north Atlantic.

They have informed family members of the missing men of the discovery.

The spokesman said: “The US navy has informed us it has located the hull of the Cheeki Rafiki. We have informed the families and remain in close contact with them and with the USCG who continue to lead the search operation.”

In a statement on Friday evening, the USCG said it still intended to call off the search as the latest development failed to suggest the crew would still be alive.

It said: “Navy crews observed that the sailing vessel’s keel was broken off, causing a breach in the hull.

“The US coast guard has confirmed the life raft aboard the capsized sailing vessel Cheeki Rafiki was secured in its storage space in the aft portion of the boat, Friday, indicating it was not used for emergency purposes.

“A US navy warship smallboat crew and surface swimmer captured underwater imagery clearly identifying the raft in its storage space. The image was shared with and acknowledged by the families.

“The US coast guard made an announcement, Thursday, that search operations would be suspended at midnight Friday unless new information or sightings suggested the crew would still be alive. None of the current developments indicate that to be the case.”

It said a US navy warship helicopter crew discovered the overturned hull 1,000 miles off Massachusetts. A close inspection of the debris confirmed the identity of the yacht, which had been flooded.

It said: “The swimmer determined the boat’s cabin was flooded and windows were shattered, contributing to the complete flooding inside.

“The swimmer also knocked on the hull and reached an arm’s length below the waterline with no results. Surface swimmers are not trained divers and do not perform sub-surface operations.”

Earlier on Friday the sister of one of the four missing yachtsmen expressed disappointment at the US coast Guard’s decision to call off the search if nothing is found by Saturday morning.

Kay Coombes, who fought against the initial decision last Sunday to suspend the search, which was reversed in the face of public pressure and intervention by the UK government, said her only hope was that they would find her brother Steve Warren and the others before the deadline. An RAF Hercules aircraft, which flew out to join the search on Wednesday, will continue its search for an extra day, the Foreign Office said.

Captain Anthony Popiel, chief of response at the 1st Coast Guard District, said on Thursday that he had informed the families the operation would be suspended at midnight on Friday (5am Saturday BST) if there were “no further developments to indicate search efforts would locate the crew alive”.

Coombes said: “I am a bit disappointed to be honest with you, hopefully they will find something today. Hope is all that we have got now.”

The search was initially halted on Sunday morning when US officials said the crew would not have survived longer than 20 hours, only for it to resume on Tuesday after the men’s friends and relatives accused the US of giving up too easily and started a petition that reached more than 230,000 signatures.

Searchers from the US coast guard, the US air force, the Canadian military and the RAF, as well as a number of commercial vessels and volunteers, have combed more than 17,000 square miles of ocean in the hunt for the Cheeki Rafiki’s crew. Popiel said that the decision to halt the search a second time had been made “after deepest consideration” and said the search team’s thoughts and prayers were with the families. He added: “Our focus right now, however, remains with this very active and very dynamic search. We will always put forth utmost efforts to find and rescue those in peril at sea.”