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Australian authorities contact missing American teen sailor

By Alan Duke, CNN
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Mom says Abby is 'in good spirits'
  • NEW: Authorities say 16-year-old has tools to survive at sea
  • Australian maritime officials say they've made contact with missing girl
  • Family spokesman says she's "alive and well"
  • Fishing boat could reach Sunderland's last position on Saturday

Experts consider the question, Is sending your teen out alone to cross oceans a good parenting choice? Their answers may surprise you

(CNN) -- Australian authorities on Friday made contact with a 16-year-old American girl who triggered a distress signal while attempting to sail solo around the world.

But it could be a day before a French fishing vessel pulls Abby Sunderland and her boat, Wild Eyes, to shore, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said.

"She's in the boat. The boat's seaworthy. It's not taking on water, and she's equipped for the conditions down there, we believe," said Mick Kinley of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

Sunderland triggered the distress signal Thursday during rough seas.

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"She's been dismasted. The rigging's over the side and in the water," Kinley told reporters Friday.

He said Wild Eyes was in the Southern Ocean about 2,000 miles southwest of Perth, Australia, when rescuers contacted her Friday.

"That's a long way from any merchant shipping," he said. "We're just fortunate that the French fishing vessel was in that region."

Family spokesman Christian Pinkston said Sunderland communicated with rescuers via marina radio.

"We know that Australian search and rescue has contacted her ... and she is alive and well," Pinkston said early Friday morning.

Sunderland's parents, Laurence and Marianne, wrote on her blog: "We have just heard from the Australian Search and Rescue. The plane arrived on the scene moments ago. Wild Eyes is upright but her rigging is down. The weather conditions are abating. Radio communication was made and Abby reports that she is fine!

"We don't know much else right now. The French fishing vessel that was diverted to her location will be there in a little over 24 hours. Where they will take her or how long it will take we don't know."

Mom talks about dangers her daughter faces on high seas

Earlier Friday, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority had taken over the search for Sunderland, noting the stormy seas that prompted her to activate her distress beacons had calmed.

"The weather is moderating. It is improving slightly," Carly Lusk of the AMSA said at the time. "Now, it's not perfect, but any improvement in the weather is a positive when you're looking at a search and rescue operation."

Sunderland's vessel is adrift in the middle of the Indian Ocean some 2,000 miles east of Madagascar, 2,000 miles west of Australia and 500 miles north of the French Antarctic Islands.

Sunderland's family began scrambling to organize a search-and-rescue effort for her after they learned her emergency beacon was detected just an hour after they last spoke to her on Thursday, according to Jeff Casher, an engineer on her support team.

The government of Reunion -- a French island -- diverted a fishing boat toward her last known position, but it is not expected to reach the area until Saturday, Casher said. An Australian military ship, more than two days sail away, has also been dispatched, Casher said.

Electronic signals from the boat indicate it is drifting at just a mile per hour, which means it is still afloat but not under sail, Casher said.

iReporter follows the story

Sunderland began her journey from Marina del Rey, California, on January 23 with the goal of sailing her 40-foot boat around the world without stopping. Mechanical troubles forced her to make two stops for repairs, including at Cape Town, South Africa, in May.

She has kept in touch with family and followers through a satellite telephone. Her website has published frequent blog updates, including one posted Wednesday.

"The last few days have (been) pretty busy out here," Sunderland wrote in her last blog entry. "I've been in some rough weather for awhile with winds steady at 40-45 knots with higher gusts. With that front passing, the conditions were lighter today."

Sunderland is a "very determined" and "very capable sailor," Thomas said.

"She's pretty much unfazed by most everything, but she had been fatigued by this period of winds which she's been going through for several days now," he said.

When Abby's older brother Zac sailed around the world alone last year, with stops, he became the youngest person to ever do so at 17. Mike Perham of the United Kingdom, a younger 17-year-old, took over the distinction weeks later.

Last month, Australian Jessica Watson, days before her 17th birthday, claimed to have become the youngest person to have completed a non-stop, unassisted solo circumnavigation -- a mark held by then 18-year-old Jesse Martin of Australia since 1999.

However, sailing journalists have said -- and her team hasn't disputed -- that Watson's route was less than 21,600 orthodromic nautical miles, which is the length of the equator and the distance generally used for round-the-world sailing records.

Abby has been on a schedule to complete her global journey about two months before her 17th birthday, which is on October 19.

CNN's Samuel Gardner, Ed Payne, Irving Last and Allison Blakely contributed to this report.