Prayers for missing Britons

RELATIVES are praying that a Suffolk solicitor and his son who vanished while yachting amid atrocious conditions are still alive - even though US coastguards called off their search.

RELATIVES are praying that a Suffolk solicitor and his son who vanished while yachting amid atrocious conditions are still alive - even though US coastguards called off their search.

The three Britons went missing in high seas and a rescue beacon and wreckage, thought to belong to their yacht, have been recovered.

Jacek Bielecki, 56, his son Jack, 19, and family friend Richard White, 34, have not been heard from since noon on Thursday, when Mr Bielecki called his stepdaughter in America to say their 41ft yacht, Free Spirit, was in trouble and they needed to be rescued immediately.

They disappeared amid atrocious conditions, with the remnants of Tropical Storm Alberto causing winds of up to 115mph and 30ft seas.

The US coastguard has now revealed that an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) thought to belong to the Free Spirit was recovered by rescuers on Thursday some time after Mr Bielecki's distress call.

A massive rescue operation involving American and Canadian coastguards and the Canadian Air Force using jets, helicopters and boats combed 15,000 square miles of ocean but found no sign of life.

Most Read

And coastguards have now called off their search for Mr Bielecki, his son, Mr White, and 21-year-old American Molly Finn, Jack's girlfriend.

Mr Bielecki moved from Orford, near Woodbridge, to Newport, Rhode Island, in October and the yacht was making its way from Newport to Europe after setting sail a week ago.

The Bielecki family lived until last year in Orford where they were all members of the village's sailing club. Last year Mr Bielecki sold the family home for an estimated £1.2million and moved to start a new life in Rhode Island, America. His wife, Tanya, moved to a new house in another Suffolk village.

Polly Bielecka, 26, and her sisters Amber, 22, and 20-year-old Jet and their step-sister Ailsa were yesterday comforting their mother at her home, anxiously waiting for news.

Polly said: “We are not in any way critical of the US coastguards - they have made a tremendous effort. “Their response has been utterly exceptional, they have done a marvellous job and we are very grateful to them.

“But we would urge them not to give up. There has been no evidence or any other indicators that would lead us to the conclusion that the crew are not still alive. A life raft or the vessel may still be afloat with survivors on board.

“Our father and the crew are all experienced yachtsmen who are aware of all the risks and would have acted according to the conditions.”

Mr Bielecki and his son, who celebrated his 19th birthday on Monday, had set out with Jack's girlfriend American Molly Finn, 21 and Suffolk boat-builder Richard White, 34, on the Atlantic crossing that was expected to take three weeks.

Polly added: “My father had made trans-Atlantic crossings in similar boats before and is a very experienced sailor.

“They bought the boat in November and have spent the last nine months making it ready for the circumnavigation and were heading first for the Med.

“The yacht had all the proper life-saving equipment including a six-man life raft and everyone on board had a harness and life-jacket.”

Mr Bielecki's brother Mark, of Wivenhoe in Essex, added: “We're still hanging on to hope. Jacek is extremely determined and resourceful.”

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter