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UK rowers rescued by Australian navy

Wednesday, 4 June, 2003

18:44 GMT 19:44 UK


HMAS Newcastle is steaming towards
the stranded men

An Australian naval ship has rescued two British rowers who were left drifting in the Indian Ocean after one was knocked out by a freak wave.

Mike Noel-Smith, 45, from Herefordshire, smashed his head on the side of the boat during a fierce storm four days ago and has been suffering from concussion.

He and his rowing companion, 31-year-old Rob Abernethy, from south London, were drifting 1,500 miles off the west coast of Australia.

Mr Noel-Smith's relieved wife Elizabeth said Mr Abernethy had rung her to tell her they had been lifted onto HMAS Newcastle and were safe.

"Rob said it was incredible the way they took Mike up," she told BBC News.

She said her husband had been taken straight to the ship's sick bay, where he was getting medical attention for a head injury and broken nose.

Earlier, in a live link-up with the BBC, Mr Noel-Smith said they had worked out with the Australian navy the best way for them to be picked up.

He said he expected the rescue to be difficult because there were "heavy seas" and it was "pitch black".

The plan had been for HMAS Newcastle to stop 400m from their tiny craft, floodlight them and lower two flat-bottomed boats, he said.

There they would "pincer us either side to keep us steady".

Then the pair would be transferred and taken to the frigate.

The sailors would then return for the rowing boat and winch it onto the back of the ship.

Mr Noel-Smith said they were calm and looking forward to having showers.

"After 45 days on board we've become a little smelly," he said.

Record attempt

The two men set off on their 4,400 mile journey, from Carnarvon, Western Australia, to Reunion Island, east of Madagascar in Africa, last month.

While zipped into the survival cabin of their boat as they drifted, the pair have had to endure heavy seas and the boat overturning - it stayed upside down for two minutes.

Their efforts were praised by Sir Richard Branson, who has attempted hot air balloon records.

He said: "British history is full of great explorers, going right back to Cook and Darwin, and ones who didn't succeed like Scott of the Antarctic who is still a hero despite the fact that he tried and failed, and the same applies to these two."

The former Army officers had been hoping to set a record for rowing across the Indian Ocean and raise 250,000 for a children's charity.

The current unofficial record set in 1971 of 64 days.


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