Air Canada flight helps locate sailor off Australian coast

Australian authorities are thanking the crew of an Air Canada flight for helping locate a sailor in distress off the country's east coast.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said Tuesday it received an emergency beacon activation at 8:15 a.m. local time, coming from approximately 270 nautical miles (500 kilometres) east of Sydney.

The AMSA requested Air Canada Flight AC033, a Boeing 777 en route from Vancouver to Sydney with 270 passengers and 18 crew aboard, to divert to the area of the beacon.

"The location of the beacon was within a flight path, so we needed to assess the situation and the Boeing 777 was the closest asset available to us," Jo Meehan of the AMSA told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

The Air Canada flight dropped down from its normal altitude to about 1,067 metres to fly over the area. Air Canada tweeted that the crew borrowed binoculars from some passengers to spot the yacht.

"The plane’s captain reported a yacht was at this location," AMSA said in a release.

Canadian singer Jill Barber, who was on the Air Canada flight, tweeted: "It was not what I'd call an uneventful @AirCanada flight to Australia. Very impressed with the response of captain, crew and passengers!"

An Air New Zealand A320 en route to Sydney from Auckland was also asked to divert to the area, and confirm the yacht's position and get more details on the situation.

An Australian rescue plane arrived at noon local time and made contact with the sailor, whose yacht had been demasted and was low on fuel.

"It is believed the solo yachtsman left Pittwater, Sydney, two weeks ago heading for Eden in New South Wales, but had been drifting away from land since last week," Australian authorities said.

Pittwater is a part of Sydney's Northern Beaches region.

A merchant vessel, the ANL Benalla, arrived alongside the yacht later in the afternoon to provide shelter from strong winds until a police vessel from Sydney reaches the scene late Tuesday evening.

An AMSA spokeswoman said it was unusual for commercial aircraft to be called in to assist in a search-and-rescue effort.

"It's not common, but that's not because we try to avoid doing it," she told the Australian Associated Press. "It's because the nature of the incidents that we have aren't necessarily so remote that we can only rely on the commercial airlines."

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