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Page last updated at 15:32 GMT, Saturday, 20 December 2008

Injured yachtsman rescued by navy

Elies is carried onto dry land in Australia after two days immobilised with a broken leg at sea

A French sailor who broke his leg in the Vendee Globe round-the-world solo yacht race has been rescued by an Australian Navy frigate.

Yann Elies was unable to move after injuring himself when a large wave slammed his boat in the Southern Ocean.

At about 1050 GMT, the 34-year-old skipper was transferred from his 60ft yacht to HMAS Arunta.

British competitor Samantha Davies broke off to go to his aid. She rejoined the race on Saturday.

The BBC's Nick Bryant, in Sydney, said the frigate had made quicker progress than expected and sent out an inflatable launch to rescue Elies from his boat, the Generali.

He is now being treated by a doctor on board the navy vessel and is expected to be taken to Perth military hospital.

The Commanding Officer of HMAS Arunta was quoted on the Vendee Globe website saying Elies was thought to also have broken ribs and some other injuries.

"He's in good spirits though and he's just about to ring his wife," he said. He added that the rescue took about 45 minutes, including a search for Elies's passport which he had "hidden pretty well".

Deputy race director Julian Hocken said the sailor had been "extremely brave" and must have been in "terrible agony".

'Comforting'

Davies and a second competitor, France's Marc Guillemot, had changed course to offer assistance to Elies.

His spirits are good and everything has finished happily
Samantha Davies
Vendee Globe competitor

Despite large waves, Guillemot managed to sail his boat close enough to Elies's yacht to throw a bag containing water and painkillers on board.

"I was able to speak to him and that was very comforting for him," Guillemot told France's RTL radio.

Guillemot watched the rescue take place and said it had been carried out "perfectly".

The 33-year-old Davies continued sailing to Elies until event organisers gave her the green light to resume racing. She finally returned to the route, continuing towards the next racing mark, at 1030 GMT, said the organisers.

Davies, a Cambridge engineering graduate from Hamble, Hampshire, told the BBC she had received a call from HMAS Arunta to say that Elies was safely on board.

"His spirits are good and everything has finished happily, which is a big relief to me," she said.

"It really is a dangerous race... and we must take care out here."

Yachtsman Yann Elies
Yann Elies and his fellow competitors set off on 9 November

Speaking to BBC News Channel from her boat she later said her role in aiding Elies would have been mainly to provide a "morale boost", and to let him know they would not leave him alone until the navy arrived.

"It is very important help, psychologically," she added.

Mr Hocken added: "Sam is an example of the great bonds of friendship and assistance that this class enjoys here."

Guillemot and Davies, who took a 40-hour diversion to reach Elies, will receive time credits and will not lose their positions in the race.

Organisers said an independent international jury would make a decision in the next five to 10 days as to what their positions would have been had they not gone to Elies's aid.

Autopilot

Elies was also complaining of chest pains and was confined to his bunk after the accident. A member of his team said his mood improved after making radio contact with Guillemot.

His thighbone was broken when a massive wave slammed into his boat as he was changing a sail on Thursday.

He managed to drag himself into the cabin and activate the vessel's autopilot.

The Frenchman's team says they will attempt recover the yacht, which is currently about 800 miles (1,287km) off Australia's southern coast.

Samantha Davies on her attempt to rescue Yann Elies

This is not the first time Australian forces have rescued Vendee Globe racers. They went to the aid of Briton Tony Bullimore and Frenchman Thierry Dubois in the 1996-97 race.

The rescues drew criticism because of the cost to the Australian taxpayer, but Vice Admiral Russ Crane said the navy had no hesitation in responding to the request to help Elies.

"They are very experienced and diligent operators and no one knows the conditions in the Southern Ocean better than they do," said race director Denis Horeau.

Thirty yachts began the race, held every four years, from the French Atlantic port of Les Sables d'Olonne on 9 November, but 12 have now withdrawn.

Foncia skipper Michel Desjoyeaux is in the lead as the racers approach the southern Pacific Ocean.

Map showing route



see also
'Gutted' Golding abandons Vendee
16 Dec 08 |  Other sport...
Thomson pulls out of Vendee Globe
13 Nov 08 |  Other sport...
Vendee Globe yachts get under way
09 Nov 08 |  Technology
Adventurers to Grand Prix racers
08 Nov 04 |  Other sport...
Sailing's greatest feat?
03 Feb 04 |  Other sport...


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