It’s June 16, 2010, and Australian aviation company AVWest has just received a call from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA). An international network of search-and-rescue crews is already on high alert: Abby Sunderland, a 16 year old American sailor circumnavigating the globe solo, has sent distress signals from the Indian Ocean. Her attempt at a world record cut short, she’s battling weather conditions so rough that her racing sailboat’s mast has snapped off. AVWest’s Global Express XRS jet is dispatched in the direction of the coordinates where Sunderland’s emergency beacon is signaling her position. The choice of aircraft is crucial: Sunderland is approximately 2,000 nautical miles (3700 kilometers) southwest of Perth and only a Global Express XRS jet will offer the flight autonomy necessary for the rescue effort’s ultimate success.
The ultra long range Global Express XRS jet, with a cruising speed just below sonic level, can cover up to 6,150 nautical miles (11,390 kilometers). It’s equipped with state of the art navigation and communications systems and holds 17 world speed records, including a transpolar mission crossing the North and South poles. Still, it’s not easy to find a 40 foot (12 meter) boat in an area that spans thousands of square miles. “Even with the ELT (emergency locator transmitter) and beacons and the like, it’s extremely difficult to find a tiny object in high seas,” says AVWest chief pilot David Cornish. “On top of that, we had to keep track of Abby’s location and direct the ship that was going to pick her up.”
In the end, the aircraft surpassed all expectations. Sunderland’s rescue involved some 12 hours in the air, with the Global Express jet’s crew successfully pinpointing the location of her sailboat, Wild Eyes; serving as communication relay between her and the French fishing vessel lie de la Reunion; guiding the boat’s crew to her location; providing top cover during the rescue; then returning to Perth. Remarkably, after all that, the plane still had nearly 7000 pounds (3175 kilograms) of fuel left on board.