FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii — A container ship crew rescued three people Monday who had been stranded in a sailboat off the Hawaiian Islands for about 24 hours as Hurricane Julio battered their vessel with high winds and massive waves.
The sailors were pulled aboard the container ship at about 8 a.m., about 400 miles northeast of Oahu, said Hawaii Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle.
Rescued were Ben Nealy, 61, Lee Nealy, 22, and Mike Vanway, 22, all reported to be in good condition by the Coast Guard.
The 42-foot sailboat had been heading to Honolulu from Stockton, Calif.
The container ship shot a line to the sailboat’s crew and pulled the craft and crew alongside the ship. The trio climbed a 30-foot ladder draped over the side of Manukai’s hull.
During the rescue, winds were blowing about 20 mph, with 13-foot waves.
The Air Force Reserve and Hawaii Coast Guard had combined forces Sunday evening to locate the sailboat, which was being pummeled by 30-foot waves and 100 mph winds of Hurricane Julio.
The sailboat Walkabout began taking on water after its hatch had blown off and bilge pumps couldn’t keep up with water flooding in. The sails were in shreds, and its engine had stalled out. The boat’s life raft had been blown overboard.
The Coast Guard received a call from the International Emergency Response Coordination Center in Texas that the Walkabout was in distress around 7 a.m. Sunday, local Hawaiian time.
In response, the Coast Guard diverted a “hurricane hunter” plane operated by the Mississippi-based Air Force Reserve 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, which had been flying missions through hurricanes Iselle and Julio since Tuesday.
"The latitude, longitude coordinates at the time of the mayday call placed the sailboat near the northeast side of the eye wall with approximately 55 knots of wind," said Tom Birchard, a senior forecaster and hurricane specialist with the Central Pacific Hurricane Center, in a posting on the 53rd Squadron’s website.
As the flight neared the last-known location of the sailboat, it dropped to a low altitude to begin a visual search, where it picked up the mayday signal.
"One of the Navy oceanographers spotted the boat," said Maj. Dena Williams, the commander of the hurricane hunter flight. "If he hadn't seen that, we might have gone by."
At that point, the Coast Guard dispatched a C-130 from Air Station Barbers Point on Oahu to deliver a life raft and relieve Teal 76.
After a two-hour flight, the Coast Guard plane dropped life rafts and equipment for bailing water out of the ship to the Walkabout, but the equipment was lost because of the rough seas.
A second plane was sent after the first ran low on fuel. It arrived at the scene at about 7 p.m. Sunday night remained there until the 661-foot Matson container ship Manukai arrived.
The crew of the Manukai deemed a nighttime rescue too perilous, so they waited until morning to transfer the sailors over.
The ship is now headed for Honolulu, which is where it was headed with cargo before being diverted.