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Rescued rowers return red-faced 

By Amanda Banks 

June 10, 2003 



Defeated and dejected: Rescued long-distance rower Mike Noel-Smith leaves HMAS Newcastle with wife Elizabeth after arriving in Fremantle yesterday. PICTURE: RON D'RAINE

DEVASTATED, embarrassed and wishing they were still rowing across the Indian Ocean, rescued British adventurers Mike Noel-Smith and Rob Abernethy set foot on dry land at Fremantle yesterday.

Plucked from the ocean by the Australian Navy last Thursday, the pair have their military training and technology to thank for the successful rescue.

Mr Noel-Smith, seriously hurt in a fierce storm on May 31, appeared well and was greeted by his wife, Elizabeth, aboard HMAS Newcastle, before being taken to hospital by ambulance.

The 45-year-old had a CAT scan at Royal Perth Hospital and was released within hours.

The pair were attempting to cross the Indian Ocean to raise money for a British children's charity.

Mr Abernethy said they spent 18 months preparing rigorously for the journey and were devastated to be defeated by a freak accident.

"It was a cruel twist of fate," he said.

The pair were 42 days and about 2400km into their journey from Carnarvon to Reunion Island, off the coast of Madagascar, when Mr Noel-Smith was injured in wild, 7m seas.

Mr Noel-Smith's broken nose, injured eye and lapsing consciousness left the pair no choice but to call for help.

HMAS Newcastle travelled 2085km to pick up the rowers, who had been drifting for three days.

Newcastle commanding officer Capt. Gerry Christian said the rescue operation was executed to plan.

Thanking the Newcastle's 220 crew, Mr Abernethy modestly brushed aside suggestions he was a hero, saying it was his partner's character and strength which saw him through the ordeal.

He said the team had been "insured to the hilt", but could not get a policy to cover the cost of a rescue.

He was not sure if there would be a second attempt.

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