Published: Jun 11, 2010 8:09 PM EDT
Updated: Jun 11, 2010 8:32 AM EDT

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A 16-year-old California girl who was feared

lost at sea while sailing solo around the world has been found

alive and well, adrift in the southern Indian Ocean with rescue

boats headed toward her, officials said.

After a tense 20 hours of silence, a Qantas Airbus A330 search

plane made contact with Abby Sunderland late Thursday in the south

Indian Ocean where her boat was knocked down repeatedly by huge

waves and she lost satellite phone contact.

Qantas Airline spokesman Tom Woodward said the teenager was

spotted half way between Australia and Africa and the plane crew

spoke with her by radio.

"Abby's in an okay condition; the yacht's damaged but its

seaworthy," Woodward told The Associated Press. "She's aware that

there are other boats on the way to her location."

Sunderland told searchers she was doing fine with a space heater

and at least two weeks worth of food, family spokesman William

Bennett said.

Support team member Jeff Casher said the boat had gotten knocked

on its side several times and the mast had broken.

The French regional administration on the island of Reunion also

confirmed contact, which occurred Friday in that region of the

Indian Ocean, and said it had sent three boats in her direction,

the first expected to reach her on Saturday.

The communication with Sunderland was the first since satellite

phone communications were lost and her emergency beacons began

signaling early Thursday.

She had made several broken calls to her family in Thousand

Oaks, Calif., and reported her yacht was being tossed by 30-foot

(9-meter) waves.

The 11 observers aboard the plane, which left the western

Australian city of Perth early Friday, spoke with her by

close-range VHF marine radio, western Australia state police

spokesman Senior Sgt. Graham Clifford said, adding that the crew

couldn't drop her anything.

He said the jet faced a 4,700-mile (7,600-kilometer) round trip

from Perth to Sunderland's boat, which is near the limit of its

range.

Abby's family and support team had expressed confidence that she

was alive because the beacons were deliberately turned on rather

than set off automatically.

"She's got all the skills she needs to take care of what she

has to take care of, she has all the equipment as well," said

brother Zac, himself a veteran of a solo sail around the world at

age 17.

But renowned Australian round-the-world sailor Ian Kiernan said

Abby should not have been in the southern Indian Ocean during the

current southern hemisphere winter.

"Abby would be going through a very difficult time with

mountainous seas and essentially hurricane-force winds," Kiernan

told Sky News television.

Conditions can quickly become perilous for any sailor exposed to

the elements in that part of the world.

Her brother said Abby was prepared and mentally tough. "I

really wish I could see her and hope she gets through this one,"

he told reporters outside the family home.

Abby last communicated with her family at 4 a.m. local time (7

a.m. EDT, 1100 GMT) Thursday and reported 30-foot (9-meter) swells

but was not in distress, Pinkston said.

Casher said Abby had to make repeated calls with her satellite

phone because of sketchy connections. He said she had been in rough

weather and had a problem with her engine, which she eventually

managed to start. The team then asked her to check other things on

the boat.

"She hung up to go check some things and she never did call

back," he said.

An hour later the family was notified that her emergency beacons

had been activated, and there was no further communication.

A lifelong sailor whose father is a shipwright and has a yacht

management company, Abby set sail from Los Angeles County's Marina

del Rey in her 40-foot (12-meter) boat, Wild Eyes, on Jan. 23 in an

attempt to become the youngest person to sail around the world

alone without stopping. Her brother briefly held the record in

2009.

Abby soon ran into equipment problems and had to stop for

repairs. She gave up the goal of setting the record in April, but

continued on. On May 15, Australian 16-year-old Jessica Watson claimed the

record after completing a 23,000-mile (37,000-kilometer)

circumnavigation in 210 days. Jessica and her family sent a private

message of hope to Abby's family, spokesman Andrew Fraser said.

Abby left Cape Town, South Africa, on May 21 and on Monday

reached the halfway point of her voyage.

On Wednesday, she wrote in her log that it had been a rough few

days with huge seas that had her boat "rolling around like

crazy."

Information on her website said that as of June 8 she had

completed a 2,100-mile (3,400-kilometer) leg from South Africa to

north of the Kerguelen Islands, taking a route to avoid an ice

hazard area. Ahead of her lay more than 2,100 miles (3,400

kilometers) of ocean on a 10- to 16-day leg to a point south of

Cape Leeuwin on the southwest tip of Australia.