Cheeki Rafiki search may be suspended - US Coast Guard

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Media captionCapt Anthony Popiel, 1st Coast Guard District chief of response, said ''utmost efforts'' were continuing to find the crew

The US search for four missing British yachtsmen in the Atlantic will be suspended if nothing is found by Friday night, the US Coast Guard has said.

The men's families said they were "saddened" by the news but held "out much hope" the sailors would be found.

Two US planes and two boats have been sent out again, along with an RAF Hercules plane, which will keep looking for the Cheeki Rafiki on Saturday.

The yacht was sailing to the UK from Antigua when it hit problems on 15 May.

'Sincere compassion'

The crew of the 40ft yacht, based in Southampton, are Paul Goslin, 56, from West Camel, Somerset; Steve Warren, 52, from Bridgwater, Somerset; skipper Andrew Bridge, 22, from Farnham, Surrey; and 22-year-old James Male, from Romsey, Hampshire.

Speaking after a meeting with officials at the Foreign Office in London, the families of the men said they were staying strong.

"Although the search at some point is going to be suspended... [it] is still happening. We have got to stay positive to that. We know our boys are out there," said Mr Male's father, Graham.

The families said they had been told that the US Coast Guard will continue to send out alerts to boats in the Atlantic until Monday evening.

On Thursday night, the US Coast Guard official overseeing the search, Capt Anthony Popiel, said he had spoken to the yachtsmen's families to tell them the search could be suspended.

"If by midnight tomorrow [03:00 BST Saturday] there are no further developments to indicate search efforts would locate the crew alive we will suspend the search," he said.

He added that he had "sincere compassion" for the families of the four men, and that his "thoughts and prayers" were with them.

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Image caption James Male, Andrew Bridge, Steve Warren and Paul Goslin (l-r) are all experienced yachtsmen

Kay Coombes, sister of one of the yachtsmen Mr Warren, said she would not give up hope.

"We know they can't search forever, and we know they can't survive forever out on the ocean. But we've not given up hope yet. So, while they're still searching, there's hope."

The search has so far focused on an area some 1,000 miles east of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

More than 17,635 square miles of ocean have now been covered by planes and boats working on behalf of the US Coast Guard.

International effort

The Foreign Office said the British Hercules C-130 plane would continue scouring the search area "for one more day" on Saturday.

"They will be co-ordinating closely with the US Coast Guard on the search area," it said.

It said the US had "gone above and beyond" in its effort to locate the yacht and its British crew.

The plane, which was deployed on Tuesday and is operating from Portugal's Azores islands in the Atlantic, was expected to end its search at about 22:00 BST on Saturday, the Foreign Office added.

It is understood it will probably fly two search missions on Saturday - one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

Tuesday's decision to resume the search followed an official request from the UK government. An online petition, set up to put pressure on the US Coast Guard, had attracted more than 200,000 signatures.

Hopes were briefly raised on Thursday when debris was found in the ocean near where the Cheeki Rafiki is thought to have gone missing, but the US Coast Guard later confirmed that this debris could not have come from the yacht.

It warned volunteer ships helping out with the search of the "inherent risks" of operating in what was a "very remote region of the Atlantic".

Twelve-person life raft

A raft, such as that on board the Cheeki Rafiki, is required to meet the international standard ISO 9650, which stipulates how the craft must be constructed and what it must have on board. The rafts are highly visible and buoyant and can be boarded quickly in an emergency.

The Cheeki Rafiki was returning from Antigua Sailing Week when the sailors contacted the yacht's owner on 15 May to say they were taking on water and diverting to the Azores.

Contact was lost the following day and it is thought the yacht may have capsized. Locator beacons activated by the crew indicated they were in a position 1,000 miles east of Massachusetts on the morning of Friday 16 May.

A yellow and orange 12-person life raft was believed to have been on board the yacht at the time, and it was thought that the men may have inflated it and climbed on board, but this vessel is also yet to be spotted by rescuers.

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