A sudden, vertical blast of wind knocked the three-masted SV Concordia onto its side in 15 seconds, forcing the captain and four dozen students to abandon ship and ride out heavy seas for nearly two days before their rescue off Brazil's Atlantic coast, the survivors said Saturday.
Disheveled and teary-eyed, wearing navy caps and clothing borrowed from their rescuers, at least 12 of the rescued docked in Rio de Janeiro at 10:45 a.m. on a Brazilian navy ship. About 10 students stood on deck taking photos of themselves and the dozens of photographers waiting to meet them. The rest were to arrive later in the afternoon on two merchant vessels.
"We had been in the life raft for about 30 hours when we saw a search plane for the first time," said 16-year-old passenger Lauren Unsworth, a Dutch-Canadian who lives in Amsterdam. "That's when we knew we were not alone and that help was on the way."
Capt. William Curry told The Associated Press on Saturday that the vessel sank Wednesday afternoon - a day earlier than previously reported. All 64 people aboard were rescued by merchant ships early Friday.
The Concordia was on a five-month voyage that allows students in their last two years of high school and first year of college to study while sailing around the world. Forty-two of the students on board were from Canada, while others hailed from the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Europe and the West Indies, said Kate Knight, head of West Island College International of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, which operates the Class Afloat program.
Curry said he and the Concordia's crew had prepared a day beforehand for what they anticipated would be rough but not unusual weather. He was below deck when the ship suddenly keeled - which was normal. It was when it keeled a second time that he knew the vessel was in great danger.
The captain blamed the wreck on a "microburst," a sudden, vertical downdraft. When the vessel keeled, the entire surface area of the sails was exposed to the powerful wind, and within 15 seconds, the boat went from sailing normally, upright, to lying on its side and beginning to sink. Thirty minutes later it was completely underwater, Curry said.
"The boat started keeling a lot," Unsworth said. "It came back up, keeled again, was basically lying on its side and all the windows began to break. That's when we knew it was time to flee."
Curry said that the Concordia's radio equipment was underwater and unusable, keeping the crew from being able to call for help, but an emergency beacon was automatically released into the water.
The navy said the distress signal was picked up about 5 p.m. Thursday, and an air force plane later spotted life rafts in the ocean about 300 miles from Rio.
"This was only my 15th day at sea. It was definitely a shocker," said a tearful Katherine Irwin, 16, of Calgary. "At first I was, like, I'm never going back into the ocean. But after thinking about the friendships I made in the raft, I definitely would do it again."
Edgardo Ybranez, captain of the Philippine flagged Hokuetsu Delight cargo ship that rescued 44 people, told the AP on Friday via satellite phone that everyone from the Concordia was unhurt except for the doctor, who suffered an injury before the rescue "but he is OK now." He gave no more details.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement thanking the Brazilian navy and the merchant ships for their "swift and heroic response."
The ship had visited Europe and Africa since leaving Canada in September, and it had just begun a five-month semester program on leaving Recife in Brazil's northeast Feb. 8. It had been scheduled to dock Tuesday in Montevideo, Uruguay, then visit several islands in the Atlantic as well as southern Africa and the Caribbean before returning to Canada.
West Island College International's Web site says the 188-foot-long Concordia was built in 1992 and "meets all of the international requirements for safety." It carries up to 66 passengers and crew and also can operate under motor power.
The site lists tuition for the sailing program at 42,500 Canadian dollars ($40,600) a year.
By Associated Press Writer Bradley Brooks; AP Writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report