Against all odds — sailor survives Pacific by clinging to abandoned buoy

Image: Pitcairn Tourism Board.
Image: Pitcairn Tourism Board.

A supply ship engineer, Vidam Perevertilov, fell overboard in the Pacific between New Zealand and Pitcairn Island and clung to a fishing buoy for 14 hours before being rescued.

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A Russian engineer has beaten the odds after falling overboard from his ship, the Silver Supporter, reports the Guardian. The sailor fell overboard at 04:00 local time on 16th February, 740km from the nearest land, and spent more than 14 hours clinging to a fishing buoy before being miraculously found by rescuers. 

Alone at dawn in mid ocean, and without a lifejacket, he was able to make out a black object floating on the horizon. Swimming towards the abandoned buoy saved his life; 52-year-old Mr Perevertilov was hauled back aboard his ship later that day. 

His freighter was making a supply run between New Zealand’s Tauranga port on the country’s North Island and the isolated territory of Pitcairn Island when he felt dizzy and went on deck for some air. His son Marat told New Zealand’s Stuff said ‘he does not remember falling overboard’.  

The lost mariner remembers gaining consciousness and seeing his ship sailing away into the dark. He was not missed for another six hours. When it was finally realised that he was missing, a distress call was made and a French Navy aircraft joined the search and rescue operation. 

The crew of the Silver Supporter knew Perevertilov had been on board at 04:00, as he had filled out a log entry. Being able to ascertain when he went overboard was crucial to the rescue effort, and wind and current analysis provided by the French meteorological service gave rescuers a likely area to search. 

“His will to survive was strong, but he told me until the sun came up, he was struggling to stay afloat,” Marat told Stuff from Lithuania. He clung to the buoy until 18:00 and as his ship circled the search area, a crew member heard a faint call and a lookout saw a hand raised above the waves. Perevertilov was pulled aboard, exhausted but otherwise unhurt. 

Laura Clark, British High Commissioner to New Zealand and governor of Pitcairn Island, said everyone was “hugely relieved” to hear of the rescue. “We all feared for the worst, given the sheer scale of the Pacific Ocean, and its strong currents,” she said. 

“So the fact that the Silver Supporter found him, and he survived is just amazing: a story of survival that even Captain Bligh … would have applauded.” 

Bligh was cast adrift in the same waters by his mutinous crew in 1789 and successfully sailed his open boat 6,000km to Timor. The mutineers then sailed Bligh’s ship, the Bounty to Pitcairn, where their descendants still live. 

Perevetilov’s son Marat, told Stuff, his father had left the fishing buoy in the sea, rather than taking it as a souvenir. 

“It’s funny. He said he wanted to leave it there, so it could save another person’s life.” 

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