Couple vanish on sailing trip from US to Portugal

A Virginia couple who set sail to Portugal have been missing for almost nine days after their sailboat was damaged in rough weather.

The US Coast Guard has launched a search operation to find Yanni Nikopoulos and Dale Jones, both 65, who left their home in Hampton, Virginia, on 8 June for the Azores off Portugal’s coast.

The pair last contacted Jones’s daughter on 13 June and told her they had run into bad weather and their sailboat was damaged. They said they were heading back home and it was anticipated that the couple would return on Monday.

The two had departed in a 36ft sailboat called Kyklades and were around 460 miles east of Virginia Beach at the time of the call, the US Coast Guard said in a statement.

Jones’s daughter raised an alert with the Fifth District Coast Guard command centre on 17 June, saying “she hadn’t received any communication from her mother since they departed and was concerned for their well-being”.

Two overflights of HC-130 Hercules military transport aircraft from Elizabeth city’s Coast Guard air station have since been deployed to conduct the search for the missing pair, said the statement.

The Fifth District Coast Guard command centre has also issued an Urgent Marine Information Broadcast to alert boaters in the area.

“In situations like this, where there are so many unknowns, our coordination efforts need to cast a wide and intentional net,” said Chief Brian Gainey, command duty officer.

“We’re tracking cell phone and radio pings as we work with our counterparts in Bermuda to accurately determine the most intelligent search area for our air crews. It’s a lot of detective work, but it’s all in service to finding these two individuals and bringing them home to their families.”

In a separate release, lieutenant commander Christopher Pulliam, the search and rescue mission coordinator in the Fifth District Coast Guard command centre, said they are working with other authorities in Azores, Bermuda and Canada to help locate the pair.

“We have not received any signs of distress, however, we encourage the public to keep a sharp eye out for Yanni Nikopoulos and Dale Jones,” he said.

“We encourage anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of the two boaters to contact the Fifth Coast Guard District at 757-398-6390.”

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