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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Capsized Sailors Rescued After 4 Days


SYDNEY -- Two yachtsmen from a round-the-world race were plucked to safety in an epic Australian rescue operation Thursday after defying death for four days in the storm-lashed waters of the southern oceans.

Ex-marine Tony Bullimore, 56, performed a Houdini-like escape as he swam from under the hull of his upturned yacht Globe Exide Challenger, in which he had survived freezing cold in an air-tight sleeping compartment that could have become his tomb.

The tough but pint-sized British veteran emerged as the crew of a rescue boat from the Australian guided missile frigate HMAS Adelaide were about to hack their way in to reach him.

After the Englishman was safely aboard Adelaide, his first request was for a cup of tea.

Four hours earlier, fellow yacht-race competitor Thierry Dubois, was plucked from a raft in a "copybook" winch rescue by the crew of a Seahawk helicopter launched at first light from the Adelaide.

Frenchman Dubois, 29, said the rescuers had done "a fantastic job" and told reporters aboard the Adelaide he had despaired at one stage of being rescued just before a RAAF Orion search and rescue aircraft flew over and dropped him a life raft.

"At this moment for me it's finished, and my only question was how many minutes to die," he said in halting English in an interview aboard the frigate. "For me in my mind it is finished, but another aircraft came at this moment."

After treatment for hypothermia, 29-year-old Dubois went to the bridge to advise Adelaide commanding officer Captain Ray Gates how best to approach and deal with the upturned yacht and save his friend Bullimore.

Both yachtsman were competing in the Vendee Global Challenge round the world race, one of the world's most dangerous sporting events, when they ran into storms about 2,600 kilometers from the west Australian coast.

Defense department spokesman Colonel Andy Reynolds described Bullimore's survival as "Houdini-like" and "a miracle," adding: "He is a very tough man ... Even though he is 56-years-old, this man is a born survivor."

Bullimore said on Thursday he owed his life to "sheer determination, a little water and a little chocolate."

In high spirits despite hypothermia, dehydration, frost bite and a severed finger, Bullimore kissed his rescuers and hours after being pulled to safety by the Australian Navy, told BBC radio: "At the moment, I feel ecstatic."

Bullimore was speaking from the frigate Adelaide, which spotted his yacht's upturned hull drifting in the icy waters. He had cowered inside the boat since capsizing.

The former marine, chirpy after his ordeal, gave the Australians "10 out of 10" for saving his life. "It was an incredible rescue. I think it will probably go down in history."

He later told Sky Television: "I think I only just made it. I was deteriorating at quite a reasonable pace."

"It was a horrific, traumatic experience, very difficult," he said. "It was a case of me continuously praying and hoping that there was something happening above the water."

But as the pair brought to three the number of competitors rescued in rough seas in 12 days, New Zealand and French officials said a fourth contestant, Canadian Gerry Roufs, was also reported missing. ()