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Image: Abby Sunderland
Jaco Marais  /  Getty Images Contributor
Abby Sunderland, shown here in Cape Town, South Africa, on May 21, is believed to be approximately 500 miles north of the Antarctic Islands on her bid to become the youngest to circumnavigate the globe in a sailboat.
TODAY staff and wire
updated 6/11/2010 6:04:48 PM ET 2010-06-11T22:04:48

A 16-year-old California girl who is awaiting rescue in the Indian Ocean aboard her storm-damaged yacht will likely give up on her dream of sailing solo around the world, a family spokesman said Friday.

A French fishing boat was expected to reach Abby Sunderland, of Thousand Oaks, between midnight and 12:30 a.m. Pacific on Saturday after a search plane launched from Australia's west coast made radio contact with her Friday morning, said Jeff Casher, the spokesman.

"This is the end of the dream. There's no boat to sail," he said.

Sunderland set off a distress beacon when her sailboat became damaged by 30-foot waves.

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Her family told TODAY's Meredith Vieira on Friday that the wait for news after the distress beacon went off was "tense."

"They're not enjoyable moments, of course, and your mind does play tricks with you," said her father, Lawrence Sunderland, a shipwright who owns a yacht management company. "It's just a waiting game."

Video: Teen girl feared lost at sea found alive

He said the family was fortunate the search and rescue team acted as quickly as they did to find Abby.

When the rescuers located her, they found her boat's mast was broken — ruining satellite phone reception — and was dragging with the sail in the ocean, said search coordinator Mick Kinley, acting chief of the Australia Maritime Safety Authority, which chartered a commercial jet for the search.

But the keel was intact, the yacht was not taking on water and Abby was equipped for the conditions, Kinley told reporters in Canberra, adding that "she sounds like she's in good health."

This was a "testimony to her will to survive and deal with the situation," Lawrence Sunderland said on TODAY.

A lifelong sailor, Abby Sunderland had begun her journey trying to be the youngest person to sail solo, nonstop around the world — a record briefly held last year by her brother — and continued her trip after mechanical failures dashed that dream.

She told searchers Friday that she was doing fine with a space heater and at least two weeks' worth of food, family spokesman William Bennett said. Casher said the boat had gotten knocked on its side several times.

The seas were rough late Friday, with 20- to 24-foot waves at her last known location, according to Shaun Tanner, senior meteorologist at data provider Weather Underground.

She’s ‘more than capable’
Abby's family and support team rejected criticism on TODAY, saying the 16-year-old had all of the skills needed to sail around the world by herself.

"She's proven herself on more than one occasion before now to deal with the adversities of the ocean," Lawrence Sunderland said. "It's not to do with her ability — the boat was demasted because of a condition. And she's proven herself more than capable of dealing with this."

He continued to defend the decision in an interview with the AP.

Tales of survival"Sailing and life in general is dangerous. Teenagers drive cars. Does that mean teenagers shouldn't drive a car?" Laurence Sunderland said. "I think people who hold that opinion have lost their zeal for life. They're living in a cotton-wool tunnel to make everything safe."

But renowned Australian round-the-world sailor Ian Kiernan said Abby should not have been in the southern Indian Ocean during the current southern hemisphere winter.

"Abby would be going through a very difficult time with mountainous seas and essentially hurricane-force winds," Kiernan told Sky News television.

Conditions can quickly become perilous for any sailor exposed to the elements in that part of the world.

Abby set sail from Los Angeles County's Marina del Rey in her boat, Wild Eyes, on Jan. 23. She soon ran into equipment problems and had to stop for repairs. She gave up the goal of setting the record in April, but continued.

On May 15, Australian 16-year-old Jessica Watson claimed the record after completing a 23,000-mile circumnavigation in 210 days. Watson and her family sent a private message of hope to Sunderland's family, spokesman Andrew Fraser said.

Friday's communication with Abby was the first since satellite phone communications were lost early Thursday.

She had made several broken calls to her family in Thousand Oaks, California, reporting her yacht was being tossed by 30-foot waves — as tall as a 3-story building. An hour after her last call ended, her emergency beacons began signaling.

The search plane — a chartered Qantas Airbus A330 jet that left Perth early Friday — faced a 4,700-mile round trip from Perth to Sunderland's boat, which is near the limit of its range.

Qantas spokesman Tom Woodward said the airliner flew five hours to reach the area where the beacons were transmitting, then maneuvered for another hour before spotting the 40-foot yacht. In all, it hovered over the site for two hours, Qantas said.

The Australian maritime authority did not say how much the rescue mission would cost but said it would not be seeking compensation for the search, which initially fell just outside of Australia's search and rescue region.

"That's the way the system runs," search coordinator Kinley said. "It's our obligation to do this and we'll fulfill those obligations as Australia does."

The CROSS maritime rescue center on the island of Reunion, off Madagascar, said it had sent three boats in her direction.

Philippe Museux, CROSS director, told French RFO television station in Reunion that it had asked a fishing boat to head to the zone.

Sunderland left Cape Town, South Africa, on May 21 and on Monday reached the halfway point of her voyage.

On Wednesday, she wrote in her log that it had been a rough few days with huge seas that had her boat "rolling around like crazy."

Information on her website said that as of June 8, she had completed a 2,100-mile leg from South Africa to north of the Kerguelen Islands, taking a route to avoid an ice hazard area. Ahead of her lay more than 2,100 miles (3,400 kilometers) of ocean on a 10- to 16-day leg to a point south of Cape Leeuwin on the southwest tip of Australia.

The AP contributed to this report.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive

Video: Sailor’s parents glad ‘waiting game’ is over

  1. Transcript of: Sailor’s parents glad ‘waiting game’ is over

    VIEIRA: Amy Robach , thank you very much . Abby 's parents and brother, Lawrence , MaryAnne and Zac Sunderland , are with us now. Good morning to you all.

    Mr. LAWRENCE SUNDERLAND: Good morning.

    Ms. MARYANNE SUNDERLAND: Good morning.

    Ms. Z. SUNDERLAND: Good morning.

    VIEIRA: First of all, we are all so glad and relieved that Abby and her boat have been found. She's been in direct contact with that search and rescue team and help is finally on the way. Can you take us back to the moment this morning when you found out that your daughter is alive and well, Lawrence ?

    Mr. L. SUNDERLAND: Yeah. It was a very tense moment. We were waiting for the airplane to pass over her boat. And obviously, the Australian search and rescue that were in charge of the flight, and the rescue contacted us soon as they had good news. I was actually in the middle of doing an interview on the other line, and they called me during the interview, and it was just very, very, very good news. Everybody around was listening and it really was very, very exciting. It was a very tense day with much anticipated news, and it was -- it was just a great outcome. We're very happy. We're very excited.

    VIEIRA: Yeah. MaryAnne , do you know what Abby said to the rescue team when they were finally able to make radio contact with her?

    Ms. SUNDERLAND: I don't, but they said that she was fine. And that's -- every time we'd talk to her, she'd always say -- we'd say, `How are you, Abby ?' And she'd say, `I'm fine.' So it was kind of funny that she would choose those words. But it was a huge relief. So I don't really know a lot of details. I know that she said she was fine.

    VIEIRA: Yeah, but you know that it was a very terrible 20 hours that you'd spent wondering about the fate of your daughter. Lawrence , you mentioned that, you know, you had no idea -- you had lost contact with her. You were on the phone, satellite phone, Thursday with her. You knew she was in trouble with the engine on the boat, and the weather conditions were not very good. Then the phone went dead. Then you found out that she had released those two emergency beacons and had no idea for the next 20 hours where she was exactly or whether she would be found alive or found at all. How did you make it through those 20 hours? What was going through your minds?

    Mr. L. SUNDERLAND: Well, I guess with Zac 's sort of circumnavigation, we had experience of these tense moments. They're not enjoyable moments, of course, and your mind does plays tricks with you. But we just spent the time

    making the most of what we could supply the......and with as far as information goes, and standing nervously by the telephone. We had a lot of support from friends and family that came around and offered prayer and assistance in any way, shape and form, and it's just a waiting game. And I'm -- I was so fortunate that the Australian search and rescue were able to get a plane out to her as quickly as they did. It was actually a remarkable feat that they jumped on this right away and got a plane out to her.

    VIEIRA: You know, Zac , you sailed around the world yourself last year at the age of just 17, so can you describe to us what Abby was facing out there in the Indian Ocean ?

    Mr. Z. SUNDERLAND: Yeah. The Indian Ocean is a -- it's a pretty crazy ocean. No one really gets through it without getting a few fair knocks. And, you know, singlehanding in a storm is also quite hard. But Abby 's made it this far, she's the youngest girl around Cape Horn . When I saw her in South Africa she'd been out at sea for 103 days. So she's definitely got what it takes to be out there.

    VIEIRA: But were there moments when you ever started to lose hope that your sister would be found?

    Mr. Z. SUNDERLAND: We really did not know what was going on, what -- why her emergency beacons were off. We found out only after the plane flew over. So try and keep positive as much as we could as -- and, you know, the situation, as it turned out, was actually a pretty good outcome for what -- for the emergency beacons going off. Abby 's safe, her boat's still floating and, you know, it's a good outcome.

    VIEIRA: You know, Lawrence and MaryAnne , I know you are a family of very experienced sailors, but this could have had such a tragic outcome. And I 'm sure there are people at home this morning who are wondering whether a teenager, any teenager, should be trying to sail around the world by himself or herself, especially in the Southern Hemisphere at this time of year, when weather conditions can be so dangerous. What do you say to them?

    Mr. L. SUNDERLAND: The fact is whether a teenager or a young adult or a middle-aged person, there have been many rescues that have taken place. One comes to mind; Isabelle Autissier was rescued, of Australia , during an around-the-world race a few years ago. Do we say that she shouldn't go out there and sail, or do we say that no one should go out and sail because, you know, you face hard knocks out there and sometimes people need to be rescued? I don't think so. Abigail 's campaign, unfortunately, had a blow with his demasting out there in the middle of the Indian Ocean , and she's proven herself on more than one occasion before now to deal with the adversities of the ocean. It's not to do with her ability. The boat was demasted because of a condition, and she's proven herself more than capable of dealing with this. I think this is a more of a testimony to her will to survive and deal with the situation than a travesty that she went out there at all. I think I'm still excited for Abigail and it's unfortunate that this situation has occurred.

    VIEIRA: Well, I know there's a fishing vessel making its way to her, should be there at some point today, and then will take her to Australia where, I understand, there's going to be a family reunion . We wish you all the very best and we're so happy about this positive outcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

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