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Sailor from France, 62, survives 16 hours in a capsized boat in the Atlantic Ocean

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By Euronews  with Reuters
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Atlantic Ocean waves are pictured on March 11, 2022.
Atlantic Ocean waves are pictured on March 11, 2022.   -   Copyright  OLIVIER MORIN/AFP or licensors

An elderly Frenchman has survived 16 hours adrift at sea by using an air bubble inside his capsized boat. 

The 62-year-old was rescued from the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean by the Spanish coastguard, who labelled the feat as "verging on impossible". 

Spain's coastguard found the 12-metre sailing boat face down after receiving a distress signal late Monday evening. 

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

The boat, named Jeanne Solo Sailor, sent out the call for help 22 kilometres (14 miles) off the Sisargas Islands near Spain’s north-western Galicia region. 

It had set off the day before from the Portuguese capital, Lisbon. 

Three helicopters and a rescue ship were scrambled to rescue the man, who has not been named, after they received the distress signal at 20:23 local time. 

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

The Frenchman banged on the inside of his ship to let know rescuers he was alive. He was found wearing a neoprene survival suit and submerged in water up to his knees. 

The sea at this point was too rough to attempt a rescue and visibility had grown poor. 

Coastguard members attached buoyancy balloons to the boat to stop it from sinking into the freezing waters and waited until the morning.

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

Vicente Cobelo, a member of the coastguard’s special operations team, told Spanish media that the man then jumped into the freezing water and swam under the boat to reach his rescuers. 

“Of his own initiative he got into the water and freedived out, helped by the divers who had to pull him through because it was difficult for him to get out in his suit,” Cobelo said.

Divers at the coastguard described the operation as "verging on impossible".

The man was airlifted to safety and taken to hospital for checks, and was discharged soon afterwards with no issues.