A French sailor trapped beneath a capsized sailboat in the Atlantic Ocean used an air bubble to stay alive until his rescue 16 hours later, according to Spanish coast guard officials.
The sailor, who has been identified by Spanish news media as Laurent Camprubi, sent out a distress signal on Monday when his sailboat, the Jeanne SOLO Sailor, capsized about 14 miles from the coast of Spain’s Sisargas Islands.
A dramatic video of the recovery shows a Spanish search-and-rescue diver banging on the boat’s bottom, listening for signs of life. After he was rescued Tuesday, Camprubi, 62, said he was able to survive thanks to an air bubble, according to the Spanish coast guard and media reports.
The sailor said he was shocked when he realized the extent of the damage to his boat — a shattered mast, destroyed boom, keel and most equipment gone.
“I couldn’t understand how was I able to survive,” Camprubi, of Marseille, told the Spanish newspaper La Voz de Galicia. “The conditions were very adverse.”
Camprubi set sail in his 40-foot vessel on Sunday from the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, according to Reuters. He was participating in a qualifying race for the upcoming transatlantic solo sailing contest Route du Rhum, which takes place every four years.
He had arrived Monday in Fisterra in western Spain, where he encountered strong winds and three-meter waves, and soon realized his boat had lost its keel, a beam that runs down the middle of the boat, he said in the interview with La Voz de Galicia.
“I was trying to pull the main sail when the boat started to tilt,” he told the newspaper. “So without giving it much thought, I went inside, and in 15 seconds, the boat had capsized.”
In a rescue mission that has been described as “on the edge of the impossible,” rescue crews battled the rough seas. Vicente Cobelo, a member of the coast guard’s special operations team, told the laSexta TV station that when the rescuer banged on the boat Monday night to see whether there were any survivors, he got a response.
“We knew then there was someone underneath,” he said.
But the waters were too rough to attempt a rescue. So the team had to wait until next morning to try again.
While Camprubi waited for help, he said he used the air bubble to breathe and tried to not panic. He told La Voz de Galicia it was the thought of not seeing his wife and children again that helped him survive the ordeal.
He added that the air bubble was about 27 inches long on Monday but shrank drastically overnight. By Tuesday, water was filling up, and he knew he was running out of time. But he kept calm, he said.
“I never panicked,” he told La Voz de Galicia. “I tried to see the reality and find solutions. I was afraid of not seeing my kids again.”
On Tuesday, two divers swam under the boat to free the sailor, who was wearing a survival suit and submerged in water up to his knees, coast guard officials said.
Cobelo, the coast guard member, told reporters when the divers approached the boat, the sailor jumped into the freezing water and swam under the boat to reach the surface.
“Of his own initiative, he got into the water and free-dived out, helped by the divers who had to pull him through because it was difficult for him to get out in his survival suit,” Cobelo told the laSexta TV station.
Just after noon on Tuesday, rescue crews could be seen on video pulling him to safety.
Camprubi, who is an experienced sailor and has participated in many local and international competitions, told La Voz de Galicia that the experience has made him decide he will no longer compete professionally.
“I don’t want to risk my life anymore,” he said. “I just want to take care of my family.”