Chinese Sailing Team Implores US to Continue Ocean Search

This undated photo provided by Guo Chuan Racing shows Guo Chuan. The U.S. Coast Guard in Hawaii was searching Oct. 26, 2016 for Guo Chuan, a Chinese mariner attempting to set a solo sailing record from San Francisco to Shanghai. (Guo Chuan Racing via AP)
This undated photo provided by Guo Chuan Racing shows Guo Chuan. The U.S. Coast Guard in Hawaii was searching Oct. 26, 2016 for Guo Chuan, a Chinese mariner attempting to set a solo sailing record from San Francisco to Shanghai. (Guo Chuan Racing via AP)

KAPOLEI, Hawaii — The racing team of a Chinese professional sailor who went missing on a mission to set a solo trans-Pacific world record is imploring the U.S. Coast Guard to resume its ocean search for him.

In a post titled "Who can help us save Guo Chuan?" the team Friday said it was disappointed the search for Guo had been suspended two days prior and said it had written a letter to the Coast Guard for help.

"We are deeply saddened by the decision to suspend the search and beg you to continue searching until there is confirmation that he has lost his last chance for survival," the group wrote in the letter, according to the statement on its official social media page.

"Guo Chuan's crew will assist regardless of cost, if you could just tell us what to do," they said in the statement.

The search was suspended Wednesday after a U.S. Navy crew from the USS Makin Island went aboard Guo's 97-foot trimaran about 620 miles northwest of Oahu and found only his life jacket. The Coast Guard has offered condolences to Guo's team, his friends and family.

Guo "was a professional mariner with a deep passion for sailing," said Capt. Robert Hendrickson, who directed the Coast Guard's search. "Our thanks to our Navy partners who helped us search for this vessel in a timely manner so far from shore in an attempt to locate Mr. (Guo) Chuan. Our deepest condolences go out not only to his family and friends but also to his racing team and the sailing community."

Lt. Ben Powers, the Coast Guard pilot who was air commander in the search, said waves, wind and darkness hampered the effort.

"It was pretty frustrating not to find him, not to hear him," Powers said at Air Station Barbers Point in west Oahu on Thursday. "The hardest thing we do is search for a person in the water because it's a huge ocean."

Guo, 50, was the first Chinese person to sail around the world in 2013, according to his website, guochuanracing.com. He left San Francisco on Oct. 18 to challenge the solo nonstop trans-Pacific world record. The current speed record for that journey is 21 days, and he was trying to sail from San Francisco to Shanghai within 20 days, the website says.

As one of the pilots of one of the HC-130 Hercules planes that participated in the search, Powers spent hours scanning the ocean for Guo through 4-to-6-foot waves. There was no moon, he said, so illumination was low even with night-vision goggles.

Rescuers radioed Guo every 15 to 30 minutes, Powers said. There was no response.

"When the person's in the water basically the only thing above the water is the person's head," Powers said. "So that's really what we're looking for — something the size of a human head from an aircraft from 300 to 700 feet."

Because Guo's boat was well-tracked, rescuers had a good idea where he fell into the water, Powers said.

Guo's team said in its Friday statement that a company that operates helicopters for tourism in Honolulu has expressed its willingness to provide up to 10 helicopters for the search. It said they can only travel 500 kilometers (310 miles) without stopping and would need a ship to serve as a platform for refueling on the sea.

The team is in contact with commercial ships but the nearest one is hundreds of miles away because Guo Chuan was taking a non-traditional route, it said.

Guo's sailboat, the Qingdao China, is adrift, and its main sail has been taken down, the Coast Guard said. The Coast Guard says it broadcast a warning to mariners to beware of the drifting boat. Guo's racing team plans to recover the sailboat, the Coast Guard said.

In Beijing, the Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that China's consulate general in Los Angeles had alerted the U.S. Coast Guard in Hawaii when it learned that Guo could not be reached. Spokesman Lu Kang said Chinese diplomats had helped in the coordination of the search and continued to monitor the situation.

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