The life raft on the missing yacht Cheeki Rafiki has been found unused in its storage space, the US Coast Guard has said.
The search for the four missing British sailors now appears over after a search of the capsized boat found the only realistic means of survival had not been deployed.
Navy divers found a completely flooded cabin with shattered windows, said the Coast Guard.
“A US Navy warship smallboat crew and surface swimmer captured underwater imagery clearly identifying the raft in its storage space. The image was shared with and acknowledged by the families,” said a statement.
“The crew and swimmer deployed to investigate the overturned boat after a helicopter crew located it 1,000 miles offshore Massachusetts and within the US Coast Guard’s search area.
“The Navy surface swimmer determined the boat’s cabin was flooded and windows were shattered, contributing to the complete flooding inside.”
It had already been announced that the search would be called off in the early hours of Saturday if no signs of possible survival were discovered – that now seems a certainty.
“None of the current developments” indicate the crew are still alive, said the Coast Guard.
The upturned 40ft yacht had been found earlier on Friday, with divers first knocking on the hull to check for signs of life.
The families had said they were still hopeful they would be found despite the search being only hours from ending.
Relatives of Steve Warren, 52, Andrew Bridge, 22, James Male, 23, and Paul Goslin, 56, said they had been told “endless stories” of people surviving for months at sea.
The sailing vessel ran into difficulties a week ago while returning to the UK from a regatta in Antigua.
Debris had been found in the search area on Thursday, but turned out to be unrelated to the missing yacht.
An international search for the crew resumed on Tuesday after a request for the UK government and a online petition which collected more than 200,000 names.
The hunt included commercial vessels as well as aircraft from the US Coast Guard, US Navy, US Air Force, the Canadian military and the RAF.
Rescuers scoured more than 17,500 square miles of ocean in the last week in their search for the boat.
Experts had agreed it was virtually impossible for the crew to survive outside of the life raft in cold, rough seas.
24 May 2014 | 2:44 am – Source: orange.co.uk