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Navy ship dash to save injured Briton

By Nilufer Atik, Evening Standard

3 June, 2003

A dramatic rescue operation was launched today to save a British rower who was badly injured in a storm while trying to cross the Indian Ocean.

An Australian frigate has been diverted in a bid to locate former soldiers Mike Noel-Smith, 45, who is seriously concussed, and his rowing partner Rob Abernethy, 31, from south London.

Father-of-three Mr Noel-Smith smashed his head on the side of their 23-foot boat during the violent storm on their journey from Australia to Reunion Island, off southern Africa. They were attempting to break an unofficial record for crossing the Indian Ocean in a double-ocean rowing boat .

But today their journey was halted, 44 days after they began their challenge, as Mr Noel-Smith's condition deteriorated. The rowers issued a mayday call last night after being battered by 25ft waves.

Mr Noel-Smith, from Much Dewchurch, Herefordshire, was torn from his seat and injured as the pair were mid-way through the 4,400 mile journey from Carnarvon, western Australia to Reunion Island, east of Madagascar.

Mr Noel-Smith initially insisted he carry on with the challenge but his condition gradually worsened until he became nauseous and began drifting in and out of consciousness.

Project director Chris Cherrington said: "His partner Rob became so concerned that he called me, insisting that Mike's condition had become too serious. I took advice from a neurologist who said Mike should be evacuated from the boat as a matter of great urgency."

Australian frigate HMAS Newcastle was this morning steaming towards the rowers. A navy spokeswoman said: "The Newcastle is expected to arrive in the search area around 1.00am on 5 June. They have a doctor on board who will provide medical assistance and evacuate the injured rower."

The men were hoping to raise ?250,000 for the children's medical research charity Sparks. Mr Abernethy is hoping to continue the journey alone.

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