LOS ANGELES - 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 that 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.
"We've got to get a plane out there quick," said family spokesman Christian Pinkston, adding that the teen's family in Thousand Oaks was asking for prayers for her safety.
Her brother Zac, also a teenage solo sailor, said Abby was prepared and mentally tough. "I really wish I could see her and hope she gets through this one," he told reporters outside the family home.
Abby last communicated with her family at 4 a.m. PDT (7 a.m. Philadelphia time) and reported 30-foot swells but was not in distress, Pinkston said.
An hour later the family was notified that her emergency beacons had been activated, and there was no further communication. Pinkston said the beacons were manually activated.
Her brother said the boat was most likely not completely submerged because another beacon would be triggered at a depth of 15 feet.
Derrick Fries, a U.S. sailing instruction and safety expert, said Abby's circumstances were very unclear.
"It's hard to determine if she's rolled over, swamped, or washed overboard," he said. "She has to have a dry suit on to have any chance."
Read Abby Sunderland's dispatches at her blog via http://go.philly.com/abby EndText