Harare – UK and Portuguese coastguards have called off a search for a 21-year-old Zimbabwean rower washed overboard as he and his crew attempted to cross the Atlantic Ocean in record time.
A wave swept Michael Johnson off his seat in the eight-man boat in the early hours of Monday morning, said Oceanus Rowing, the organisers of the annual event.
Johnson was the youngest crew member.
The crew were more than halfway through their challenge, which began in the Canary Islands on January 29 and was supposed to end in Barbados.
“The force of the wave caused his safety line – attaching him to the boat – to break,” Oceanus Rowing said in a statement.
Due to the wind and the waves, the crew was unable to row back to try to find him.
Subsequent efforts by the UK and Portuguese coast guards to find the missing athlete were unsuccessful, and the search was called off.
Johnson’s family are desperate for the search to continue, the organisers said.
The boat the young Zimbabwean athlete was in had been renamed after crew member Toby Wallace, who was killed in a cycling accident in 2013.
According to Oceanus, the Toby Wallace is a light weight ocean rowing boat that has successfully crossed the Atlantic on four previous occasions. It was built to try to achieve an Atlantic speed record crossing of under 30 days.
Johnson was a former pupil at prestigious Zimbabwean secondary school, Peterhouse, outside Harare.
According to a profile of Johnson on the Oceanus website, he had been rowing since 2007, and had competed in various junior rowing championships.
“A good sense of humour, Mike will be a real asset to the crew,” it reads.
The rest of his crew have been transferred to a search ship and will be taken to land, Oceanus said.
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