‘On the verge of the impossible’: French sailor spent 16 hours in an overturned boat

An elderly Frenchman survived for 16 hours by drifting at sea using an air bladder inside his capsized boat.

A 62-year-old man was rescued from the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean by the Spanish Coast Guard, who called the feat “to the brink of the impossible.”

The Spanish Coast Guard located the 12m sailboat facedown after receiving a distress call late Monday evening.

However, the sailor had to wait until morning for rescue because the sea was too rough.

The boat, named Jeanne Solo Sailor, sends out a call for help 22 kilometers (14 miles) from the Sisargas Islands, near the northwestern Spanish region of Galicia.

He flew the day before from the capital of Portugal, Lisbon.

Three helicopters and a rescue boat were scrambled to rescue the unnamed man after they received a distress signal at 20:23 local time.

One of the helicopters found the capsized vessel as the sun was setting and sent a diver down to check for signs of life.

The Frenchman pounded on the inside of his ship to let rescuers know he was alive. He was found wearing a neoprene survival suit and knee-deep in water.

The sea at this point was too rough to attempt an escape, and visibility deteriorated.

The Coast Guard attached balloons to the boat to prevent it from sinking into the icy water, and waited until morning.

Two divers swam under the boat to help free the sailor the next day.

Vicente Cobelo, a member of the Coast Guard’s Special Operations Team, told Spanish media that the man jumped into the icy water and swam under the boat to reach his rescuers.

“On his own initiative, he entered the water and dived, helping divers who had to pull him out because it was difficult for him to get out in a suit,” Kobelo said.

Coast Guard divers described the operation as “almost impossible”.

The man was airlifted to a safe location and taken to the hospital for examination, after which he was soon discharged without any problems.