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Former University of Chester student rescued from Atlantic

Olivia Wilson and her crewmates made a 'leap of faith' onto a Liberian carrier ship after waiting 16 hours for rescue

The mother of a former University of Chester woman whose rowing boat capsized in the Atlantic during a world record attempt says she’s “relieved she’s still alive” after her dramatic rescue in terrible conditions.

Jan Wilson, of Pentre Berw on Anglesey, said her daughter Olivia and her crewmates made a “leap of faith” up a rope ladder and onto safety on a Liberian carrier ship after waiting 16 hours for rescue.

Olivia, 28, and her crewmates Gemma Chalk, Clare Lanyon and Jane McIntosh were attempting to break the women’s speed record for rowing nearly 3,000 miles across the ocean between Gran Canaria and Barbados when disaster struck.

Having set off on January 26, the crew were forced to send a distress signal at 9.08am on Saturday from around 400 nautical miles off Cape Verde on the African coast.

Olivia Wilson Olivia Wilson was one of a crew of four rescued from the Atlantic Ocean after their rowing boat capsized
Olivia Wilson was one of a crew of four rescued from the Atlantic Ocean after their rowing boat capsized

By then, their 8.5-metre rowing boat had capsized numerous times, resulting in some of their vital equipment washing away with the waves and leaving them with no way to navigate or manoeuvre.

Some of their oars had broken, while their global positioning system and safety equipment was damaged beyond use.

The carrier ship the Rio Grita finally managed to rescue the crew at 1.25am on Sunday.

Having trained for more than a year in advance, the brave women were hoping to raise £20,000 for Barnardo’s Children Charity and the Forces Children’s Trust, but have now been forced to abandon their attempt.

Jan was able to briefly speak to Olivia via satellite phone on Sunday morning.

She said: “I’m just so relieved she’s still alive and seemingly in good spirits.

“The girls faced such terrible circumstances out at sea. I’m just thankful they had the experience and know-how to know what to do.”

Describing the rescue, Jan said: “It took the boat over three hours to get the girls on board due to the terrible weather.

“In the end, they had to throw down a rope ladder and it was pretty much a leap of faith to get them up.”

Olivia, a former pupil of St Gerrard’s School in Bangor, served as a Warfare Officer with the Royal Navy and later served with the Royal Artillery, having graduated from Chester University with a degree in French and Drama.

Her mother, a former psychology lecturer at Coleg Menai in Bangor, said: “We’re not talking about a group of inexperienced young girls here. There was a wide range of experience across various disciplines.

“I’ve always known she was in good company, and their preparation was nothing short of meticulous.

Jan Wilson Olivia Wilson
Olivia Wilson

“I can’t imagine what they had to go through. The past 48 hours or so must have been torture, but I understand they are being treated very well and have their own cabins.

“They’re expected to arrive in Port Alfred in Quebec, Canada on the 22nd or 23rd and will then fly home.”

It’s currently unknown if the team plans to embark on another attempt, but Jan said: “Emotions are running high at the moment and it’s best to wait until the cold light of day before any talk of another voyage.

“At the moment though, I’d definitely rather see Liv stay on dry land.”

UK Coastguard duty controller Ian Guy said: “The rowers were an extremely long way from land with no other vessels in the immediate vicinity.

“We received several responses to our mayday request, the nearest vessel being 90 nautical miles away.

“They quickly diverted and set course to the stricken rowers, taking 11 hours to reach them.

“This shows you how important it is to be prepared for your voyage and have several means of contacting the coastguard or raising an alarm, even if you are not in UK waters.”


David Holmes
Chief News Reporter
David Norbury
Mike Fuller
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