A VOLUNTEER crew searching for missing yacht Cheeki Rafiki has spotted a plank and a piece of foam, the US Coast Guard said.
Patrick Michel, skipper of the Malisi, said he spotted the debris in the northern part of the search area in the Atlantic Ocean.
The 40ft Cheeki Rafiki was sailing back to the UK from an Antigua regatta when it got into trouble and started taking on water 620 miles east of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, last Thursday.
The four men on board - experienced captain Andrew Bridge, 22, from Farnham in Surrey, and crew members James Male, 23, from Southampton, Steve Warren, 52, from Bridgwater, Somerset, and Paul Goslin, 56, from West Camel, Somerset - have not been seen or heard from since the early hours of Friday morning.
A spokeswoman for the US Coast Guard said: “I can confirm that we have received reports (of debris) from the sailing vessel Malisi. They have found some debris in the search area. We can’t tell at this time if they are from the Cheeki Rafiki as there were no identifying marks on them.
“The debris was a plank of wood and a small piece of floating foam, but there was nothing identifying the Cheeki Rafiki. Obviously it is a possibility, and we are definitely treating it very seriously and incorporating that into our search, but I can’t say for certain that it was from the Cheeki Rafiki.”
She said the report would be used in planning the search effort, but could not say whether vessels or aircraft would be diverted to the area.
The spokeswoman confirmed the debris was spotted in the search area outlined by the US Coast Guard, but could not say if it was in an area already searched.
She said: “A lot of these areas overlap and are searched several times, and it is possible that other vessels had been in the area.”
Mr Michel told BBC Surrey: “We are currently just in the north part of the search area, our third night out here, and we did see during this night a few little (pieces of) debris which I have reported to the US Coast Guard with the times and positions, so there is a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel.”
Kay Coombes, the sister of Mr Warren, welcomed the reports that debris had been spotted.
“I think they’ve got a bit more of a clue now so hopefully the coastguard can plot that and get the ships to that area, so fingers crossed they can start searching there,” she told BBC Breakfast.
She said the families of the missing sailors were still clinging on to hope, and thanked Mr Michel for taking the time to search and the US Coast Guard for redoubling its efforts.
“They are still out there, there’s more resources being put into it, so we’re still hopeful at this point,” she said.
The US Coast Guard controversially called off the search for the men on Sunday, but they resumed after a petition signed by politicians, celebrities and top sailors attracted 200,000 signatures.
Aircraft from the US, Canada and the RAF have been combing the area alongside merchant vessels.
Relatives of the sailors will meet Foreign Office officials in London today.