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Missing teenaged solo sailor found alive after frantic overnight hunt

Sunderland started January 23 from Marina del Rey, California, with the aim of sailing her 40-foot boat around the world without halting. She intends to complete her global journey about two months before her 17th birthday.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) upped the ante on search operations to hunt for the 16-year-old California girl, Abby Sunderland, who activated two distress signals last night.

The two signals, one from a beacon attached to Sunderland’s body and the other attached to her boat indicated that she is still in the boat.

The efforts bore fruit as she has been found alive and well following a frantic hunt in a out-of-the-way portion of the Indian Ocean.

"She's fine, the boat's afloat and she's on it. It's huge, fantastic, exciting news," said her ecstatic father, Laurence Sunderland.

"I don't know what she's doing in the Southern Ocean as a 16-year-old in the middle of winter, it's just, it's foolhardy," Kiernan, Australian record-holder for solo circumnavigation of the world, said.

The American adventurer is trying to sail around the world, single-handedly. She is sailing on what is termed as an Open-40 boat. Made of carbon fibre, the vessel is designed to sail fastest when downwind.

The desperate overnight search
"We haven't been able to make radio contact with her since the activation of the beacons. We are still tracking both of the beacons ... We are hoping that it will help us to find her quickly," Carly Lusk of the AMSA said last night.

A Quantas aircraft was chartered from the western Australian city of Perth to fly over an area in the middle of Indian Ocean some 2,000 nautical miles off the West Australian coast, 2,000 miles east of Madagascar and 500 miles north of the French Antarctic Islands.

That was the tentative location where the young sailor was thought to be. An Australian military ship, which was over two days sail away from the area, was also dispatched for assistance.

"As all Australians would want us to do discharging properly our search and rescue obligations, we received a request from La Reunion authorities to assist in a search and rescue and we will do whatever is required," Foreign Minister Stephen Smith had said.

Ill timed expedition
Veteran yachtsman Marty Still who has notched up 30,000 nautical miles in the last 17 years' time, opined that the Sunderland’s boat is built for speed and it is not easy for a single person to manage it.

"They're not really designed for general purpose sailing. I think there is a compromise for safety when they are sailed single-handed," he said.

Ian Kiernan, Australian record for solo circumnavigation of the world, terms Sunderland's trip as poorly planned.

"I don't know what she's doing in the Southern Ocean as a 16-year-old in the middle of winter, it's just, it's foolhardy," Kiernan said.

"And the fact that her EPIRB went off attached to her life raft - I thought perhaps the raft had washed overboard and that may still be the case, but two EPIRB going off, it's a bit sinister to me," he added.

Meanwhile her family was trying to be in positive spirits.

"Abby has all of the equipment on board to survive a crisis situation like this. She has a dry suit, survival suit, life raft, and ditch bag with emergency supplies. If she can keep warm and hang on, help will be there as soon as possible," her family had mentioned in a statement on their website.