Rescue ship on way to stricken US girl sailor

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A French fishing vessel is expected to reach stricken Californian teenage sailor Abby Sunderland on Saturday, Australian maritime officials said.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said it was sending a new aircraft to the remote southern Indian Ocean, where the 16-year-old's yacht Wild Eyes was spotted on Friday, to regain radio contact and help coordinate the rescue.

Sunderland left the United States in January on a widely-criticized attempt to circumnavigate the world. Her yacht ran into trouble on Thursday as it was pounded by huge waves midway between Africa and Australia.

Rescuers who flew over the area on Friday said the yacht had lost its mast but Sunderland had reported it was not taking on any water.

The ship Ile de la Reunion, from France's Indian Ocean island possession of Reunion, was en route to the area, and expected to arrive later on Saturday, with two more ships due to arrive on Sunday.

The search for Sunderland involved Australia, US and French rescue authorities sending ships and a commercial airliner to an area about 2,000 miles southeast of Madagascar and 2,000 miles southwest of Australia.

An Australian rescue team aboard a Qantas Airbus A330-300 aircraft spent around two hours in the area on Friday.

Members of the search party said Sunderland's first words to them were "This is Abby" and she appeared to be in good spirits, in comments posted on Sunderland's official blog (soloround.blogspot.com).

"It was just a very small dot on the ocean she was on the back deck," said Sergeant Mike Wear of Western Australia's state water police, in comments posted on the site.

Australian rescuers, who are coordinating the rescue attempt, said weather in the area had improved slightly overnight, but Sunderland's yacht was still facing winds of up to 35 knots and swells of up to five meters.

Australian authorities are monitoring the yacht's location via its distress beacon. They have said the rescue attempt was planned for Saturday and she may be taken to the island of Reunion.

Sunderland had hoped to become the youngest sailor to circumnavigate the globe alone nonstop but had to give up her chance at that record when she was forced to pull into a port at Cape Town, South Africa, for repairs to her boat.

Her plight has rekindled a debate about teenagers attempting to sail around the world, weeks after an Australian teenager, Jessica Watson, returned home to a hero's welcome after completing a similar trip.

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