Passengers on an Air Canada flight helped rescue an Australian yachtsman stranded at sea this week after their plane descended some 30,000 feet (9,000 kilometers) to look for the sailor off the Australian coast.
Passengers on Air Canada flight 033 were traveling from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Sydney when the crew was asked by air traffic controllers if they could fly over a stretch of ocean east of Sydney to locate a yacht in distress, Air Canada said in a statement.
“The pilots immediately determined they had sufficient fuel to undertake this, and headed out to the remote area, which was over fairly rough seas,” the airline said in the statement. “After apprising the customers onboard that we would assist as we were the only aircraft in the immediate vicinity, all onboard became involved in the search efforts.”
The yacht, manned by Glenn Ey, had been rolled by a giant wave in the Tasman Sea, between New Zealand and Ey’s native Australia.
“The noise is like an explosion. You are upside down, smashing around inside the boat filling up with water,” Ey told NBC News. “A wave came along, a huge wave, and it just picked me up and just rolled me over and I smashed into the roof of the yacht and then I was back on the table of the yacht. The boat flooded with water. I was up to my knees in water. You do think your number’s up.”
The Air Canada jet descended from more than 30,000 feet to 4,000 feet to look for the yacht, the airline said.
“It was a little bit scary,” passenger Jill Barber, a Canadian singer traveling to Australia for a concert tour, told Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper. “… It felt like we were flying just above the water. We had a pretty good view, and they were tipping the plane side to side to maximize the view.”
A pair of binoculars that a passenger provided helped the crew locate Ey, who was 270 nautical miles (500 kilometers) off the coast of Sydney.
“We were happy when we found the boat the first time, and we were really happy when we found that this guy was alive,'' the jet’s captain, Andrew Robertson, told NBC News.
Ey was adrift for a total of nine days and spent the last 16 hours of his adventure with a broken mast and without fuel before his rescue and return to Sydney on Wednesday.
He told local and international media that he had no plans to return to sea anytime soon.
"I’d like get a custard tart and a milkshake first," he told Australia’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.