Dramatic sea-air rescue after boat sinks during race to Vietnam

Crew members aboard Walawala 2 have lucky escape after rival boat and Hong Kong Government Flying Services come to their aid

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 October, 2013, 12:17pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 October, 2013, 12:39am


Ten crew members aboard a boat taking part in the Audi Hong Kong to Vietnam race had to be rescued in a dramatic operation involving a helicopter and a fixed-wing aircraft after their vessel started taking on water early on Friday morning.

Walawala 2, one of 17 boats taking part in the 673-nautical mile dash from Hong Kong to Nha Trang, lost its rudder 130 miles into the race, forcing skipper Steven Manning to fire off a distress call to the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club that his boat was in trouble and he would have to abandon ship.

The boat, a Sydney GTS 43, sank minutes after the crew boarded a life raft.

“It was a dangerous situation as we had to abandon ship and the sea was rough with winds blowing at about 25 knots,” Manning said. “There were a number of occasions when the crew was in danger, one of them was when we had to get onto the life raft and then it was very dangerous getting from the life raft onto Krampus [the rescue boat].”

RHKYC sailing manager Alex Johnston received the SOS call from Manning, 54, on a satellite phone at 1.35am on Friday saying the boat was taking in water rapidly after losing its rudder.

A rescue plan was activated with the Hong Kong Government Flying Services deploying a helicopter and a fixed-wing aircraft. Organisers also directed Krampus, the closest yacht in the race, to the sinking Walawala 2’s position where they picked up all the crew from their life raft.

“We had gone through all the abandon ship procedures and life raft procedures on the morning before the race so everyone knew what to do,” Manning said. “Once I said to abandon ship, everyone knew what to do. The life raft launching, getting it into the water, getting the food, flares, grab bags was all an orderly process.”

The Walawala 2 crew was picked up at 4am by Krampus and 35 minutes later the helicopter was sighted overhead. Given the distance of 130 nautical miles offshore and the limits on operational flying time at the scene, only eight of the 10 crew were able to be winched aboard safely in that time.

The remaining two Walawala 2 crew members stayed on board Krampus, which later retired from the race and made its way back to Hong Kong.

The Walawala 2 crew included Hong Kong residents as well as other nationalities from Britain, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and Canada. They were aged between 21 and 59.