U.S. airmen played a pivotal role in a search-and-rescue mission that saved a 69-year-old man who floated for 18 hours after his sailboat capsized off the coast of Madagascar last week.

The man was one of the three Americans aboard the vessel when it overturned about 260 miles off the Madagascar coast, according to officials with Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.

The man was in stable condition when he was rescued, said Air Force Capt. John Brunner, director of personnel recovery coordination for the task force.

Rescue crews sprang into action after they were notified about the capsizing on Wednesday by the U.S. Embassy defense attache in Madagascar.

A 69-year-old man and a 73-year-old man who were also aboard the U.S.-registered vessel were declared missing after the French Maritime Recovery Center called off the search Friday night, U.S. Air Force Capt. Corinna Jones said.

The rescued man, whose name was not released, managed to survive 18 hours in the water by tying himself to the boat, Jones said.

"It is like (looking for) a needle in a haystack; it really is a small miracle that this person was found," she said.

It’s unclear what caused the boat to capsize and why the men were that far from land, but the seas were up to 15 feet high from Tropical Cyclone Eric when the man was found and winds up to 60 knots, Air Force officials said.

"There is nothing further south (of where the man was rescued), except Antarctica," Brunner said.

The rescued man was spotted by U.S. servicemembers aboard a low-flying HC-130 aircraft from the Camp Lemonier, Djibouti-based 449th Air Expeditionary Group, Jones said. Search-and-rescue officials also detected the boat’s emergency locator beacon and coordinated with officials from France, U.S. Africa Command and the U.S. Coast Guard.

The American HC-130 flew 8½ hours and refueled on Reunion Island, which lies in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar, during the mission, Jones said. The mission required the crew to work more than 16 hours one day.

A South African C-130, along with a civilian vessel, the Auto Banner, also helped search for the men, Jones said. The boat took the man to its destination, Angola.

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