HOPES of finding the missing British crew of the Cheeki Rafiki have all but faded after the yacht’s life raft was found on board the capsized vessel.
The US Coast Guard called off its search early yesterday morning and an RAF Hercules plane due to hunt for the four sailors will not now go out.
Underwater imagery taken by a swimmer from a US Navy warship showed the raft clearly stowed in place, indicating it had not been deployed in an emergency.
Relatives of one of the missing British crew of the Cheeki Rafiki have said they are “shocked and deeply saddened”, and their condolences go out to the other families.
Prime Minister David Cameron said his “thoughts are with the families and friends of the crew”.
The upturned yacht was discovered in the Atlantic Ocean yesterday, about 1,000 miles east of Cape Cod.
Its cabin was flooded and its windows were shattered. There was no sign of survivors.
Coast guard officials decided to call off the search for the men – experienced captain Andrew Bridge, 22, from Surrey; and crew members James Male, 23, from Southampton; Steve Warren, 52, from Somerset; and Paul Goslin, 56, from Somerset – unless there was new information or sightings which suggested they would still be alive. But “none of the developments indicate that to be the case”, a spokesman said.
Bridge’s family said in a statement: “We are obviously shocked and deeply saddened by the news.
“Andrew will be dearly missed by everyone who knew him. Our thoughts and condolences go out to the families of the rest of the crew on the Cheeki Rafiki.
“We would like to thank everyone who’s helped in the search for Andrew, including the US Coast Guard, the Canadian Coast Guard, the RAF, merchant vessels, the yachting community and the British and American governments.
“We have been overwhelmed and strengthened by the public support we have received, and would like to thank the media for their support, and treating us in a respectful and dignified way.”
Cameron said: “My thoughts are with the families and friends of the crew of the Cheeki Rafiki after the sad news that its hull has been found with the life raft unused.”
A coast guard spokesman said: “After a navy warship relocated the overturned sailing vessel on Friday, search planners confirmed the boat’s life raft was secured in its storage space in the aft portion of the boat, indicating the crew had not been able to use it for emergency purposes.”
He added: “The crew and swimmer were deployed to investigate the overturned boat after a helicopter crew located it 1,000 miles off Massachusetts.
“The navy surface swimmer determined the boat’s cabin was flooded and windows were shattered.”
The surface rescue swimmer found no sign of life. Navy crews saw that the Cheeki Rafiki’s keel was broken off, causing a breach in the hull.
Official British efforts to find the men have also now been cancelled. A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “The UK C130 was due to search for one more day for the life raft of the Cheeki Rafiki.
“In light of the US Coast Guard’s decision to suspend their search for the crew following photographic confirmation that the life raft is in the hull of the boat, the C130 will now return to the UK.”
A statement on behalf of Warren’s family said: “We are very sad that the US has now suspended the search for Stephen and his friends.
“From the beginning we, together with the other families, have continued to hold out hope that he would be found alive.
“The US Coast Guard have led an exceptional search. This is now an incredibly difficult time for all the family.”
The men were on board the 40ft yacht when it is thought to have got into trouble around 620 miles east of Cape Cod on 15 May as it was sailing back to the UK from Antigua.
The US Coast Guard resumed its search on Tuesday morning, having previously suspended it after scouring 4,000 square miles of the Atlantic, following a petition in the UK which attracted 200,000 signatures and pressure from the UK government.
The hunt for the missing men was finally called off after military search teams, as well as commercial vessels and volunteer yacht crews, combed an additional 21,000 square miles.
A coast guard spokesman said: “Based on the extreme sea conditions at the time of distress, but assuming best-case emergency equipment, the estimated survival time past the time of distress was approximately 20 hours. Searches were suspended nearly 200 hours after the time of distress.”