Downdraft caused ship to capsize
64 spent nearly two days adrift in life rafts
RIO DE JANEIRO - A sudden, vertical blast of wind knocked the three-masted SV Concordia onto its side in 15 seconds, forcing the captain, crew, and four dozen students to abandon ship and ride out heavy seas for nearly two days before their rescue off Brazil’s coast, the survivors said yesterday.
Disheveled and teary-eyed, wearing navy caps and clothing borrowed from their rescuers, at least 12 of the rescued docked in Rio de Janeiro yesterday morning on a Brazilian navy ship. About 10 students stood on deck taking photos of themselves and the dozens of photographers waiting to meet them. The rest were to arrive later in the afternoon on two merchant vessels.
“We had been in the life raft for about 30 hours when we saw a search plane for the first time,’’ said 16-year-old passenger Lauren Unsworth, a Dutch-Canadian who lives in Amsterdam. “That’s when we knew we were not alone and that help was on the way.’’
Captain William Curry said yesterday that the vessel sank Wednesday afternoon - a day earlier than previously reported. All 64 people aboard were rescued by merchant ships early Friday.
The Concordia was on a five-month voyage that allows students in their last two years of high school and first year of college to study while sailing around the world. Forty-two of the students were from Canada, while others came from the United States Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Europe, and the West Indies, said Kate Knight, head of West Island College International of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, which operates the Class Afloat program.
Curry said he and the Concordia’s crew had prepared a day before for what they anticipated would be rough but not unusual weather. He was below deck when the ship suddenly keeled - which was normal. It was when it keeled a second time that he knew the vessel was in great danger.
The captain blamed the wreck on a “microburst,’’ a sudden, vertical downdraft. Curry said that the Concordia’s radio equipment was underwater and unusable, keeping the crew from being able to call for help, but an emergency beacon was automatically released into the water.
They abandoned ship and took to the rafts in high winds and heavy seas, spending about 40 hours in the Atlantic before spotting the first rescuers.
The navy said the distress signal was picked up about 5 p.m. Thursday, and an air force plane later spotted life rafts in the ocean about 300 miles from Rio.
West Island College International’s website says the 188-foot-long Concordia was built in 1992 and “meets all of the international requirements for safety.’’ It carries up to 66 people and can operate under motor power.