US Coast Guard helping Clipper round-the-world yacht

A US Coast Guard ship is moving in to help crew members who were hurt when a huge wave crashed into their boat in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.

Paramedics will see whether four sailors, including three Britons, need to be be airlifted by helicopter.

The four suffered a range of injuries during a storm in the Pacific Ocean, 400 miles off California.

The rest of the 18-strong crew on the boat, the Geraldton Western Australia, are said to be uninjured but shaken.

Image caption A "monstrous foaming swell" broke over the Geraldton Western Australia

Medical supplies have been dropped onto the boat but paramedics were earlier unable to board because of the weather.

The four - who were on deck when the wave hit - are Jane Hitchens, 50, from Kent, the onboard medic; Nik Brbora, 29, from London; Mark Burkes, 47, from Worcestershire and Max Wilson, 62, a farmer from Queensland, Australia.

Dr Hitchens has four suspected broken ribs and possible internal injuries; Mr Brbora, a software engineer, has a possible pelvic sprain; Mr Burkes has suffered a back injury and Mr Wilson has two suspected broken ribs.

The 40,000-mile (64,500km) race, which features predominantly amateur crews, started in Southampton in July last year and is due to return to the city in July.

The yacht is currently 350 miles off the coast, and beyond the range of shore-based helicopters.

Race director Jonathan Bailey told the BBC it was initially thought all four would need airlifting off the vessel.

He said Dr Hitchens had oxygen dropped to her to help with breathing difficulties and added: "She is stable at the moment, on oxygen, and is actually well enough to diagnose the other casualties."

The Geraldton Western Australia is expected to arrive in Oakland, California, in the next 48 hours, before heading to the Panama canal on 14 April.

Image caption Nik Brbora, 29, from London, and Jane Hitchens, 50, from Kent have been injured

Earlier plans to parachute US Coast Guard personnel onto the yacht from a C-130 plane, which had dropped additional medical supplies and specialist stretchers onto the yacht, were abandoned due to the weather conditions.

US Coast Guard spokesman Levi Read said: "The weather conditions were not conducive to allow the jumpers from the aircraft. Because of fuel concerns, the aircraft had to return to land with the jumpers."

A US Coast Guard cutter with a helipad has been dispatched. Paramedics will assess the injuries before deciding whether to airlift any of the crew members.

If an airlift is required, the helicopter will lift the injured person to the US Coast Guard cutter, which will then head for port. When they are closer to shore, the helicopter will take them to land.

The crew were taking part in the biennial Clipper Round The World Yacht Race when the wave hit the boat in storm conditions on Saturday, sweeping away its steering wheel, mount and some of its communications equipment.

Juan Coetzer, the yacht's skipper, said: "At our watch change, just before the sun came up, a monstrous foaming swell broke over our stern.

"We had no steering, and crew were falling all over the boat."

Mr Bailey said: "A nasty little low pressure system came up behind the yacht and produced some very large waves.

"One broke over the back of the boat, and the crew that were on deck at the time were hit by the full force of the wave landing on the boat."

Race organisers limit how far north the yachts are permitted to go, but the low pressure system came further south than usual.

Geraldton Western Australia is in last place in the 10-yacht race.

Six yachts in the race have arrived in Oakland, led by the Gold Coast Australia, with three others expected in the next 24 hours.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites