Three people and a dog have been rescued from a life raft in the Atlantic Ocean about 1450km northeast of Bermuda after their yacht sank in a storm, according to the US Coast Guard.
The 15-metre yacht Blue Pearl sank on Thursday evening after being badly battered from two days of storms, according to an audio recording with the boat's captain posted by the Coast Guard.
"We were preparing to die," said 55-year-old Leonard Rorke, a United Kingdom citizen who is the yacht's owner.
Also rescued were 29-year-old Henri Worthalter of Belgium, 50-year-old Lisa Rorke of the United Kingdom and Dexter, a Jack Russell terrier.
The Coast Guard was notified on Thursday by the International Rescue Centre after a message came in saying people were in a life raft and needed help.
Coast Guard officials in Portsmouth, Virginia, issued a call for help about 6.30pm to any commercial ships in the vicinity of the life raft. Three ships answered the call and diverted their course to aid in the search.
The yacht's crew had an electronic position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) in the life raft that allowed the Coast Guard to direct ships toward their location. Rorke said there was poor visibility, eight-metre waves and winds reaching about 65 kilometres per hour. He also said the life raft had to be patched up and that they were holding on "for dear life".
"We were bailing water. It was life and death," he said in the recording of the rescue's debriefing. "We're very grateful. We are very, very lucky."
Rorke said the yacht sank after the bulkhead broke up and the vessel began taking on water.
"We had lost everything," he said.
The ordeal ended about 12.30 a.m. after the Tilda Kosan diverted course from its planned trip to Mexico. The ship found the life raft after making three passes in dark, stormy conditions. It was about 58km away from the life raft when it first joined the search.
Rorke had high praise for the Coast Guard, which coordinated the rescue.
"They were fantastic, absolutely fantastic. They didn't play around. They were super quick," he said.
Time was of the essence. The radio beacon only lasts for about 48 hours.
"The presence and proper activation of the emergency position indicating radio beacon was instrumental in saving the crew members of the Blue Pearl," Petty Officer James Hines, a search and rescue controller at the 5th District Command Centre in Portsmouth, said in a statement.
"This stresses the importance of a properly registered EPIRB, which provided us with an emergency point of contact and information on the boat."
The Tilda Kosan plans to take the yacht's crew and its dog to Bermuda.