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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 June, 2003, 16:09 GMT 17:09 UK
Ocean rower injured during storm
Mike Noel-Smith's and Rob Abernethy's boat
The rowers have encountered fierce storms
An Australian naval ship is several hours away from rescuing a former army officer badly injured mid-way through a record-breaking attempt to row across the Indian Ocean.

Mike Noel-Smith, 45, from Herefordshire, smashed his head on the side of the boat during a fierce storm and has been suffering from concussion.

He and his rowing companion, 31-year-old Rob Abernethy, from south London, are drifting 1,500 miles off the west coast of Australia.

In a live link-up with BBC News 24, Mr Noel-Smith, said his condition was improving but he was looking forward to seeing a doctor.

Mike Noel-Smith
I could hear Rob shouting 'Are you alright, are you alright?' and I looked inside the cabin and I could see he was floating in water as well
Mike Noel-Smith

Describing his accident, he said: "It was a rogue wave - that is a wave that comes in a different direction from everything else - and this was a big one, a big powerful one."

The two men set off on their 4,400 mile journey, from Carnarvon, Western Australia, to Reunion Island, east of Madagascar in Africa, last month.

Talking about the accident, he said: "I was covered in water for about 20 seconds and I could hear Rob shouting 'Are you alright, are you alright?' and I looked inside the cabin and I could see he was floating in water as well."

Mr Noel-Smith said he is starting to feel a lot better.

"The accident centred around my face and more forehead and my head and those are now beginning to stabilise quite nicely, so I'm coming along well.

Sir Steve Redgrave
The most important thing now is that two very brave men who support our work are rescued soon and can return safely to their own families
Sir Steve Redgrave
Vice-president of Sparks

"But I'm looking forward to seeing a doctor which I should do tomorrow evening on HMAS Newcastle."

The pair have also had to endure the boat overturning - it stayed upside down for two minutes.

Now all they can do is wait, zipped into their survival cabin and being tossed about in high seas.

He added: "We've been on every course known to man about surgery except for dealing with head injuries, because that's something that you cannot mess about with.

"You need proper equipment and sophisticated equipment, which obviously we don't have on board."

Mr Abernathy is continuing to monitor his colleague's condition.

Mr Noel-Smith's wife, Buffy, spoke to her husband on Tuesday morning.

'Freak conditions'

She told the BBC's Midlands Today programme: "The distance from land is the biggest worry but I have faith he is going to be alright and I am sure he will be."

Search and Rescue spokesman Ben Mitchell said HMAS Newcastle was steaming towards the two men's position.

"There is very heavy seas tossing the boat around.

"I understand they have zipped themselves in and the boat has been rolled a number of times so his severe head injury won't be helped at all by those conditions," he added.

Map

The former officers have been hoping to beat the current unofficial record set in 1971 of 64 days and become the first double ocean row boat to complete the journey.

They were also aiming to set a Guinness World Record of 60 days and raise 250,000 for children's charity Sparks - Sport Aiding Medical Research for Kids.

Olympic rowing legend, Sir Steve Redgrave, a vice-president of Sparks, said: "This is a tragedy for Mike and Rob.

"No two men could have worked harder or prepared more thoroughly than they did for this epic challenge.

"But it seems they encountered freak weather conditions that were far worse than anyone had anticipated for the time of year.

He added: "The most important thing now is that two very brave men who support our work are rescued soon and can return safely to their own families."




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Robert Hall
"The rowers are devoting their efforts to staying afloat"


Miike Noel-Smith
"We're devastated that our terrific trip has finished"



SEE ALSO:
Ocean rowers face stormy weather
08 May 03  |  Hereford/Worcs
Rower attempts world record
22 Apr 03  |  Hereford/Worcs
Ocean row record in reach
15 Apr 03  |  Devon
Ocean row 'in lap of gods'
11 Apr 03  |  Devon


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