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Coast Guard sends helicopter to stricken yacht

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POSTED April 2, 2012 12:53 a.m.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The U.S. Coast Guard sent a helicopter to rescue three injured sailors aboard a battered yacht about 270 miles off the California coast, authorities said Sunday.

The rescue helicopter left a Coast Guard vessel about 90 miles away from the yacht early Sunday evening, said George Akiyama, a Coast Guard firefighter.

Once the helicopter arrives, the chopper crew will determine whether they can lower a rescue swimmer onto the yacht or into the water nearby, Akiyama said.

A spokeswoman for the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race said the nearly 70-foot Geraldton Western Australia was hit by a large wave Saturday, knocking out its steering mounting.

Three crew members suffered back, rib and pelvic injuries.

“We were racing along in 40-60 knot gusts. The sea was alive with rage. We were making good speed, sailing with the third reef in the main, surfing at 15-20 knots. Then at our watch change, just before the sun came up, a monstrous foaming swell broke over our stern,” said Juan Coetzer, skipper of the yacht.

The injured crewmembers were Jane Hitchens, 50, a doctor from Kent, U.K., Nik Brbora, 29, a software engineer from London and Max Wilson, 62, a farmer from Queensland, Australia, race officials said.

A long-range Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules search and rescue aircraft based in Sacramento flew to the scene earlier and dropped medical supplies.

The Coast Guard cutter Bertholf with the rescue helicopter on board had been within range of the yacht for some time but could not send a rescue crew to the stricken vessel because the weather was too harsh, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Caleb Critchfield.

The yacht was proceeding under secondary steering toward San Francisco Bay.

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