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  1. ITV Report

Yacht race sailors rescued

Dr Jane Hitchens Photo: PA

Two sailors who were injured when a large wave crashed onto their yacht during a round-the world race have been rescued from their boat, race organisers said.

Three British crew members and one Australian were hurt on board the vessel when it was caught in rough seas about 400 miles off the California coast in the Pacific Ocean.

The yacht, the Geraldton Western Australia, is one of 10 UK-registered 68ft yachts competing in the Clipper Round The World Yacht Race, which takes place once every two years.

Jane Hitchens, 50, from Kent, and 29-year-old Nik Brbora, who lives in London, were transferred by small boat to a US coast guard cutter, the Bertholf, are being taken on board the cutter to San Francisco.

Ms Hitchens, a doctor, has four suspected broken ribs and is being treated with oxygen, and Mr Brbora, a software engineer, has suspected pelvic strain.

Both were said to be "in good spirits".

Two other injured crew members - Max Wilson, 62, a farmer from Queensland, Australia, who also has suspected broken ribs but is in a more stable position, and Mark Burkes, 47, from Worcestershire, who suffered a back injury - were deemed well enough to remain on the yacht until it reaches land within 24 hours.

The four sailors were hurt when a wave hit the boat in storm conditions on Saturday, sweeping away its steering wheel and mount and some of its communications equipment.

The US coastguard had planned to winch the injured people from the yacht but this was later said to be too dangerous and they were transferred to the cutter by boat.

A spokesman for the coastguard said: "Bertholf's commanding officer, in consultation with medical experts ashore, decided the best course of action was to head back to shore with the injured yacht crew."

They are expected to reach San Francisco Bay at about 7am local time (3pm BST), and will be taken by ambulance to San Francisco General Hospital.

Captain John Prince, chief of staff of the 11th Coast Guard District, said: "I'm very proud of the crew of the cutter Bertholf, the US Coast Guard and California Air National Guard flight crews involved in this case, and the crew of the sailboat as well.

"Everyone demonstrated expert seamanship and airmanship to ensure the injured sailors were safely delivered to proper medical care."

Earlier a C-130 aircraft dropped additional medical supplies to the yacht, including oxygen for one of the crew.

An initial attempt was made at around 2am (6pm local time) yesterday to parachute medical help to the sailors but it was abandoned after poor weather conditions meant paramedics were unable to jump out of the aircraft.

Waves near the yacht are reported to be between about 20ft.

The yacht is heading towards Oakland, San Francisco Bay, under secondary steering and is within 250 miles from port.

The rest of the 18-strong crew on the boat are said to be uninjured but shaken.

The 40,000-mile race, which features predominantly amateur crews, started in Southampton in July last year and is due to return to the city in July this year.

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