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Volvo Ocean Race: yachtsman missing

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Yachtsman John Fisher, who took part in the Volvo Ocean Race round-the-world regatta as part of the Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag crew, has been officially declared missing at sea.

«Given the temperature of the water, extreme sea swell and the time that has passed since he fell overboard, we have to consider him missing», the Volvo Ocean Race said in a statement.

The organizers of the regatta offered their deepest condolences to the family and friends of John Fisher.

During the 40-year history of the Volvo Ocean Race five people died in the race. The last time tragedy happened in 2006: the wave washed Dutch yachtsman Hans Horevots overboard. He was found, but unfortunately, too late: when the sailor was hoisted on board, his heart was no longer beating.

John Fisher was washed overboard on Monday at around 13:42 GMT while on watch. Rescue gear was on him. The boat was 1,400 miles west of Cape Horn at the time.

The 47-year-old Briton was taking part in the Volvo Ocean Race for the first time.

The team together with the Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (MRCC) started the search and rescue operation in 35 knots of wind and 9 degrees Celsius water temperature.

Given the stormy conditions, it was impossible to summon help from any of the other six participating teams, which were 200 miles east of Scallywag to leeward of them. The coordinating center located a ship 400 miles from the area of distress and sent it out to assist.

By nightfall, the Scallywag crew made the difficult decision to turn around downwind and head for the South American coast, the nearest safe shore some 1,200 nautical miles from the tragedy site.

Other boats participating in stage 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race from Auckland to Itajai continued on their way to the finish line,

As of 01:00 UTC, the search and rescue operation was ongoing. Darkness fell at 01:20 UTC.

Lee Seng Huang, owner of team sponsor Scallywag, Sun Hung Kai, released an official statement:

«We are devastated by the news of our team member John Fisher falling overboard on Monday afternoon. Whitty (Scallywag skipper David Whitt - editor's note) and the Scallywag crew were battling extremely treacherous conditions in the Southern Ocean and this tragedy is devastating. The crew did all they could to get John back, conducting an extensive search and rescue operation in stormy conditions. Now, with night ahead and predicted worsening weather, the crew made the difficult decision to head for shore, which is 1,200 miles away in South America. In our long crossings together, I got to know Fisher well. Despite all the dangers of the sport, he adored sailing. He is one of us, he is a long-time member of our crew. He is a fine, experienced sailor, a good man and a true Scallywag. Our thoughts and prayers are with John's family and crew during this most difficult time. We are working with Volvo Ocean Race to ensure they have all the support we can. Our main task now is to get the boat and crew to a safe harbour».
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