TODAY

TODAY   |  June 12, 2010

Sailor's dad: 'Happy she's in safe hands'

The parents of Abigail Sunderland, the 16-year-old California rescued in the Indian Ocean after having engine trouble in a storm, address criticism about their decision to let their daughter attempt to circumnavigate the globe in a sailboat alone.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

AMY ROBACH, co-host: For Abby Sunderland and her family, the ordeal finally ended this morning. Just hours ago, the 16-year- old American was rescued from her crippled sailboat by a French fishing vessel after drifting for days in the turbulent southern Indian Ocean without a mast. She had hoped to become the youngest person ever to sail around the world alone. This morning, her family finally received the news they had been waiting for, and they join us live from their home in California . Laurence , Marianne and Zac Sunderland , good morning, and I guess congratulations is under way.

Mr. LAURENCE SUNDERLAND: Good morning. Absolutely. It's a fantastic rescue effort by the Australians with -- and the French, and we're very happy and very ecstatic to have Abigail on the -- on the rescue vessel , a French flag rescue vessel .

ROBACH: Yeah. In fact, French authorities called your daughter's rescue a delicate operation. We understand that the fishing boat 's captain fell into the ocean. He is OK, but it certainly was a dramatic rescue indeed. You have been able to talk to your daughter . How is she doing, what did she tell you about her ordeal?

Mr. SUNDERLAND: She is doing extremely well. She was up, her spirits were up. I think she's relieved to be aboard the rescue vessel at this time. She was -- she was very happy to be rescued. The conversation was short and brief via the satellite telephone. She managed to talk to my wife, Zac and a couple of team players that were -- team members, sorry, that were here with us at the house, and we were very, very relieved. There were a very -- a few tense hours, cause citing her and having the rescue vessel alongside in the southern ocean is one thing, but actually plucking Abigail from her boat and getting her safely aboard the rescue vessel is quite a feat, and they handled it very well. They deployed a small rip out to her boat and got her aboard and I'm very happy for that.

ROBACH: Yeah. Marianne , what was it like to hear your daughter's voice after I'm sure there was some pretty tense days waiting to hear word?

Ms. MARIANNE SUNDERLAND (Abby's Mom): It's kind of indescribable. It's hard to describe, but obviously it was just incredible to hear her and to hear that she was -- she was still in good spirits. And I asked her, you know, if she had been injured and she had been knocked about a bit, but I don't think there was anything serious. So just so fortunate and she sounds good. So it was wonderful.

ROBACH: And Laurence , I know, I mean everyone is so excited to hear that Abigail is safe and on a workable ship right now. But there has been some backlash from people who have been asking, should a teenage girl have been sailing around the world on her own? Is it safe for any 16-year-old to do? How do you respond to those critics?

Mr. SUNDERLAND: You know, there's always people out there that will take cheap shots at you when you've got something in the public eye like this. But the reality is, I guess, it was five, seven years ago, Isabel Autissier was in the same part of the world, and she got knocked around and needed rescue , and her keel was off her vessel . Should we say -- and she's one of the world's renowned female sailors. And at the time, I guess, she was 30, 35, something like that. Should we say that no 35-year-old sailor should go out into the ocean? I think Abigail has proved herself a very competent sailor well before this incident happened, and she had to meet a very strict criteria for me to allow her to go out onto the ocean. This is something that is part of my life, sailing. I teach people to sail. It's been something that Abigail was raised with. This was not a flippant decision to allow her to go out onto the ocean. This was something that I -- that I also don't advocate for many 16-year-olds to do. It's got to be a way of life for the people that are out there. Jessica Watson successfully finished her campaign. It was a way of life for her. Jesse Martin also a few years back. Mike Perham and Zac Sunderland , my son, successfully finished his campaign. This was an unfortunate end to her trip, but she was more than competent of being out on the ocean. And you'll hear more about Abigail again. She will definitely -- she's very passionate about sailing and she will return to the ocean soon, I'm sure.

ROBACH: And you'll be able to see her in about a week or a little less than a week, I understand?

Mr. SUNDERLAND: Well, if I was to guesstimate from where the vessel actually is, it's -- what she's been rescued upon, it's going to be at least 10 days before they get to De La Reunion or Perth . So it's going to be -- I'm just happy that she's in safe hands right now.

ROBACH: Well, I'm sure that's what everyone was hoping for, and we'll be following to make sure that is indeed a happy reunion in about 10 days. Laurence , Marianne and Zac Sunderland , thanks so much. And we're rooting for Abby to get home safely. Coming up next, it is the delivery this proud papa will never forget. But first, these messages.