Missing U.S. sailor presumed dead Coast Guard calls off search

November 26, 1992|By New York Times News Service

Mike Plant, the 42-year-old solo ocean sailor whose disappearance at sea while en route from New York to France produced an extensive two-week search in the Atlantic Ocean, was declared missing and presumed dead yesterday.

The U.S. Coast Guard called off its search for Mr. Plant after divers from a French vessel examined the capsized hull of the sailor's racing yacht, the 60-foot Coyote. There was no sign of Mr. Plant in the overturned hull. His life raft, which was partly inflated, was attached to the cockpit.

"We search until there is no longer a reasonable possibility that someone is alive," Coast Guard Petty Officer David Silva said yesterday.

Coyote was discovered adrift by a passing tanker Sunday in an area about 700 miles southwest of Ireland. Airplanes and ships from four nations were involved in a search that began Nov. 13.

Tom Plant, the sailor's brother, said there was great sadness in the family after it was told of the results of the search, and he remembered his brother in the present tense.

"He's on another level," said Mr. Plant, of Gaithersburg, Md. "That's what makes him special."

Mike Plant, a highly experienced professional yachtsman, left New York Oct. 16 on his way to Les Sables d'Olonne, France. He had been expected to arrive on Oct. 31 and to take part in the Vendee Globe Challenge, a non-stop round-the-world race that began off the coast of France last Sunday.

When the search began, Mr. Plant was nearly two weeks overdue in his 3,200-mile voyage. He had sent a message to shore Oct. 21, saying that his boat's electronics systems had failed and that he was trying to repair it. He was not heard from again, and the search was undertaken only after a weak signal sent from an emergency radio beacon on Oct. 27 was traced to Mr. Plant's boat.

The delay in identifying the signal was caused by Mr. Plant's apparently inadvertent failure to register the beacon before he left New York. An initial search by airplanes that covered an area of more than 200,000 square miles was suspended last Wednesday without a sighting. After prodding from the family, which was still convinced that Mr. Plant was alive, the Coast Guard agreed to resume the search on Saturday.

The planes still could find no trace of Mr. Plant's boat, but it was encountered on Sunday by a passing tanker. Rough seas prevented divers from examining the hull of the overturned craft until yesterday.

When the drifting boat was first sighted, the Coast Guard reported that the 8,400-pound bulb was missing from the boat's 14-foot keel. The loss of the bulb, a ballast fixture that keeps the boat upright, would have turned the hull over immediately, most likely with a massive jolt. It is possible that Mr. Plant could have been thrown from the boat or hit by gear as it crashed on top of him.

Reports from the site yesterday indicated that Coyote's mast showed a crack near the deck level.

It was not known why the keel bulb was missing, but sources said Mr. Plant ran the Coyote aground in the Chesapeake Bay while preparing for his race. That could have weakened a joint, but Mr. Plant was too rushed to have the boat thoroughly inspected, they said.

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