Stand-up paddleboarding: know the wind and currents before you go | Photo: Creative Commons

A 17-year-old girl was found alive 20 hours after being swept away while practicing stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) on Coelho Beach in Algarve, Portugal.

Erica Vicente was reported missing in the Vila Real de Santo António area on Saturday, April 15, at 8 pm, after being caught by the wind and sea currents while enjoying a sunset SUP session.

"We received the information that a young woman had entered the sea with a paddleboard and, somehow, panicked, got scared, and was unable to paddle back to shore," explained the port captain and local commander of the maritime police, Afonso Martins.

"Her father, who was nearby, jumped into the water but couldn't reach her. So the girl and the board ended up moving south."

Erica was not wearing a bikini. She was in her bikini.

Land, sea, and air resources were immediately deployed in search of the young woman, who quickly disappeared from sight, pushed by the wind.

The search and rescue operation continued throughout the night and morning, with the support of an Air Force plane and the Spanish lifesaving organization.

But there was no sign of the 17-year-old.

During the first hours of the operation, which started at 8:30 pm on Saturday, 20 professionals were involved in seven means in the water.

There was also a helicopter from the Portuguese Air Force, a rescue boat from Spain, and other means of the national guard and civil protection services.

When the information about the disappearance was received, he assured, "all possible means were activated, which were many."

Vila Real de Santo António, Algarve: the Portuguese coast gets strong winds and currents all year round | Photo: Visit Algarve

Spotted by a Container Ship

The good news came when hope was fading. On Sunday, around 6 pm, an alert was issued.

Erica had been spotted by the container ship MSC Reef 25 nautical miles (46 kilometers) south of Vila Real de Santo António.

She was found alive on the stand-up paddle board she was riding, in her bikini, and with a high state of hypothermia and dehydration.

In transit and waiting for their turn to enter the port of Tangier in Morocco, the ship's crew rushed to help the young woman, who had been adrift at sea for about 20 hours.

"She was able to confirm her name and where she was from, so I would say she is fine," added Afonso Martins, attesting to the young woman's consciousness.

At the time of the rescue, there were three-foot (one-meter) swells and 11 miles per hour winds (19 kilometers per hour).

After being taken out of the water, Erica Vicente was transported in a Portuguese Air Force helicopter to the hospital in Faro.

"Human Beings Are Amazing"

Upon arrival at the Algarve's healthcare unit, around 7:45 pm, Erica remained conscious.

Pediatrician Elsa Rocha, head of the team that evaluated her, emphasized the resilience that makes the young woman "a warrior," having gone through such a traumatic and serious situation and remaining "talking and in good health."

When she was admitted to the hospital, Erica Vicente "was no longer in a situation of hypothermia or dehydrated" - only a sunburn - so she did not need to be taken to the intensive care unit.

"This child spent 20 hours at sea, alone on a surfboard. She is a warrior, and she is exhausted," Rocha stressed.

"She is only starting to remember what happened, but that's perfectly normal."

"Human beings are amazing. We were all expecting the worst, but the truth is that she is clinically fine and will have a story to tell."

According to the port captain, the fact that she was on top of the board and not in direct contact with the water "attenuated the hypothermia state" in which the young woman was found.

Erica's parents were the first to be informed about their daughter's rescue and reacted "like parents who see a daughter born for the second time."

Afonso Martins took the opportunity to remind beachgoers that, despite the warm weather, April is still a time of winter ocean conditions and, as such, requires extra care.

This Monday, Horácio Guerreiro, clinical director of the hospital in Faro, told the press that the young woman "is fine, stable" and presenting a "favorable evolution."

Erica Vicente is now in the "hydration phase and resumption of her physiological functions."

Top Stories

AllWaves is a new wave pool technology from Belgium that allows surfing on an artificial lake, thus bringing surfing experiences closer to enthusiasts and landlocked surfers.

The world's first city center wave pool is ready to welcome surfers. Meet RiF010, the Dutch answer to urban surfing.

Bianca Valenti, Alo Slebir, Wilem Banks, and Jojo Roper were the standout wave riders of the 2024 Mavericks Surf Awards.

The waves at O2 SurfTown MUC are rolling. Europe's largest wave pool opens in Summer 2024 in Munich, Germany.