'She's fine, the boat's afloat, she's on it'

A 16-year-old girl sailing solo around the world was last night found alive and well after a desperate overnight search in the the Indian Ocean.

Rescuers contacted Abby Sunderland, a Californian, after she set off two emergency beacons on her 12m yacht Wild Eyes, her father Laurence said.

Mr Sunderland said last night a chartered Qantas airline had made contact with her and she was alive. But her boat was damaged and police in Perth said she was packing her possessions and getting ready to abandon her yacht.

"She's fine, the boat's afloat and she's on it," Mr Sunderland told the ABC network. "It's huge, fantastic, exciting news."

Qantas Airlines spokesman Tom Woodward said the teenager was spotted halfway between Australia and Africa and the plane crew spoke to her by radio.

"Abby's in an okay condition; the yacht's damaged but it's seaworthy," Woodward told AP. "She's aware that there are other boats on the way to her location."

Abby's parents lost phone contact with her after she had said she had been repeatedly knocked down in 60-knot winds and 15m waves, about 3200km east of Madagascar.

One of the beacons was believed to have been attached to a survival suit and was designed to be set off by a person in the water or on a life raft.

She will be picked up within 24 hours by a fishing vessel which is on its way, police say.

Before she went missing, Ms Sunderland's parents posted a message on their daughter's blog that she was having difficulties but appeared to be coping.

"We were helping her troubleshoot her engine that she was trying to start to charge her systems. Satellite phone reception was patchy. She was able to get the water out of the engine and start up. We were waiting to hear back from her when American search and rescue authorities called to report having received a signal from her emergency beacon," they said. "We are working closely with American, French and Australian search and rescue authorities to co-ordinate several ships in the area to divert to her location."

In the latest posting on Thursday to her website, soloround.blogspot.com, Sunderland said she had endured a rough few days and she needed to repair her sail.

"I managed to take it down, take care of the tear and get it back up in a couple of hours.

"It wasn't the most fun job I have done out here. With the seas still huge, Wild Eyes was rolling around like crazy."

Spokesman William Bennett, speaking outside the family's home in Thousand Oaks, California, said she was inside the boat and doing fine with a space heater and at least two weeks' food.

Abby began her solo sail around the world in January and passed the halfway mark earlier in the week.

She dismissed concerns that she was too young to attempt the feat but told ABC she was definitely nervous before setting off. "But I understand [the] ocean and I understand how dangerous what I am doing is, and I understand how careful I need to be out there."

Australian Jessica Watson completed a solo around-the-world journey last month, shortly before her 17th birthday. Sunderland's brother, Zac, sailed around the world alone last year, at 17.

- AAP, AP, staff reporter

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