Air Canada Crew Helps Rescue Sailor in the South Pacific

It was almost the end of a long, uneventful Pacific crossing for the 270 passengers aboard Air Canada flight AC033 to Sydney when an electrifying announcement came on the public address system.

The captain said the plane had to divert its course to help locate a vessel in distress in the Tasman Sea, between Australia and New Zealand.

Thanks to extra fuel left on their plane and a pair of binoculars from a passenger, the crew of the Air Canada jetliner was credited Monday with assisting in the rescue of an Australian yacht adrift in the South Pacific.

Flight AC033, which had left Vancouver about 12 hours before, was contacted by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority after an emergency beacon signal was detected around 8:15 a.m. Monday.

After making sure there was enough fuel, the crew of the Boeing 777 descended from an altitude of 7,500 meters to 1,800 meters, said Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick.

CBC radio host Grant Lawrence’s wife, Vancouver folk singer Jill Barber, was a passenger on the plane. She told him there was a heightened sense of nervousness in the cabin.

The pilot asked if someone had a pair of binoculars that could be brought to the cockpit and the massive jetliner began circling around, dipping its wings from side to side, he said.

“Jill was surprised how nimble the plane was,” Mr. Lawrence said in an interview.

“The pilot said, ‘If anyone spots the boat, hit your flight attendant call button’ and somebody did! Somebody with binoculars spotted the boat.”

Everyone on the Air Canada jetliner cheered after they were told the boat was found and a rescue plane was on its way, Mr. Lawrence said.

The yacht was about 500 kilometers east of Sydney, the Australian maritime authority said.

An Air New Zealand Airbus 320 en route to Sydney from Auckland was also later diverted to the area and eventually an Australian rescue plane arrived and dropped a life raft and a satellite phone.

The solo yachtsman had left the Sydney area two weeks ago but for the last week had been drifting away after losing his mast and running low on fuel.

A merchant vessel was to reach the yacht to shield it from the strong winds until the police vessel could pick up the sailor.

The Air Canada flight had to travel an extra 400 kilometers and landed in Sydney about 90 minutes behind schedule, but aiding in the rescue wasn’t the main cause of the delay. Most of the extra time was spent on an earlier diversion for weather, Mr. Fitzpatrick said.

“We’re really pleased we could help,” he said.

Local officials said they seldom enlist the help of jetliners because they rarely deal with incidents so remote that they would only have to rely on commercial airlines, a spokeswoman told Australian media.

“The Boeing 777 was the closest asset available to us,” Jo Mehan told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Courtesy of www.theglobeandmail.com

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