Let’s say you were in Vancouver, Canada, and you wanted to go to Sydney, Australia for two weeks. Say you leave right after Christmas and say through, oh, January 9th. That trip is going to run you more than $1,750 round trip, and the flight to Australia is going to take about 15 hours and 35 minutes, according to this quick search I just did. In other words, it’s a long, expensive trip.
Unfortunately, as anyone who has ever been on an airplane knows, those numbers are usually the best possible outcomes. Even if you do not factor in the cost and time it takes to get to the airport, through security, through customs, and to your hotel or wherever else you’re staying on the other side, air travel is often subject to all sorts of weird delays. Maybe there’s bad weather at your destination. In rare cases, an unruly passenger does something selfishly dumb. Or perhaps your plane just needs an extra inspection just to be doubly sure it’s safe to use.
Or maybe, you need to go on an impromptu search-and-rescue mission.
In early October 2012, an Australian man named Glenn Ey ventured out into the Tasman Sea (which separates Australia from New Zealand) on a 36-foot yacht. But his trip didn’t go as planned. A few days in, his boat was hit by a storm, breaking the mast. And shortly thereafter, he ran out of fuel. At first, he told the press (via CNN) “I thought I had a very good chance of getting back to Sydney without assistance,” but after nine days adrift, his outlook was not so good. Ey continued: “I couldn’t see any evidence of Sydney, and I had no idea of my exact position, and it was at that point I set off the emergency position indicator radio beacon.”
But unfortunately, the emergency beacon didn’t provide an exact location of Ey’s ship. Authorities needed to find a way to scan the area, which proved difficult — the Tasman Sea measures 2,000 kilometers across and 2,800 km north to south. Thankfully for Ey, a plane just happened to be flying in his general vicinity. As the BBC reported, Air Canada flight AC033 had departed from Vancouver about twelve hours before Ey’s beacon went off, and it was about to pass over him on its way to Sydney. Per the BBC, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) asked the flight, “with 270 passengers and 18 crew aboard, to divert to the area of the beacon.” The plane dropped its altitude from about 9,000 feet to about 4,000, and began to look. Per Wired, “the crew used binoculars borrowed from a passenger to scan the sea for any sign of the sailor,” and “they quickly spotted the fellow, who was using a mirror as a signaling device.”
With the exact location of the adrift sailor now known, AMSA was able to ultimately rescue him. First, they sent a smaller plane to drop off an emergency raft and a radio; then, a police boat came out to actually bring the stranded Ey back to Sydney. He received some basic medical treatment but was, surprisingly, in generally good health.
As for flight AC033, it landed late, as you’d expect — it arrived in Sydney about 90 minutes past its scheduled arrival time. But unlike most passengers on delayed flights, those on flight AC033 were thrilled. An airline spokesperson told CBC that the passengers on board were “really happy and excited by the outcome.”
From the Archives: Sixteen Thousand Feet Over: One thing that probably won’t delay your flight? If a passenger dies en route. Here’s what happens instead.