The former chairman and chief executive officer of United Technologies Corp. was among 21 crew members who were rescued after their U.S.-registered yacht capsized during a race off the coast of Ireland on Monday, racing officials said.
George David's 100-foot yacht, the Rambler 100, was leading the fleet in the Rolex Fastnet Race when its keel broke and it overturned in the Celtic Sea off Ireland's southwestern tip, officials said on the race website. David and his partner, Wendy Touton, were among five people swept out to sea, while the other 16 people managed to hang onto the hull.
Crew members said the accident happened so fast that they had little time to react. Within seconds of the keel breaking, the boat "turned turtle," nautical parlance for a sailboat flipping upside-down.
Rescuers saved everyone, but David, Touton and the three others who were swept away were in the water for 2 1/2 hours. The group of five stayed together by linking arms. Touton was flown to a medical center to be treated for hypothermia symptoms but was OK, officials said.
David and the other three people who drifting from the boat were reunited with the rest of the crew in Baltimore, Ireland.
The 69-year-old David retired as chairman of United Technologies in late 2009 after a 34-year career at Hartford-based company, which owns Carrier heating and cooling, Otis elevator, the jet engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney and other companies. He was United Technologies' chief executive for 14 years before retiring from that role in 2008.
David told the Irish Examiner that the mishap happened quickly and that conditions weren't bad at the time. He said the crew faced more challenging situations last month when it won the Transatlantic Race 2011 from Newport, R.I., to Cornwall, England, in record time -- six days, 22 hours, eight minutes and two seconds.
David said the crew is very experienced, with some having raced in the America's Cup. He said everyone was doing well Tuesday.
"It's a big surprise when we had the boat go upside-down very quickly, probably less than 45 seconds all together," David said. He said the reason the accident didn't turn into a tragedy "is because of the skills and professionalism and really the very calm behavior of everybody."
In comments posted on the race's website, crew member Mick Harvey, an Australian now living in Newport, R.I., said the Rambler 100 was launching off the top of waves when he heard the "sickening sound" of the keel breaking off. He was below deck with navigator Peter Isler.
"It was instantaneous. There was no time to react," Harvey said. "The boat turned turtle, just like a dinghy capsizing. Peter Isler issued a mayday and we got out of there as quickly as we could.
"It was a scary moment, one that I will never forget," he said. "I can't begin to tell you how relieved I am that all of the crew are safe."
The Rambler 100 was one of 314 vessels taking part in the Rolex Fastnet Race, which began Sunday off the Isle of Wight.
Harvey and several other Rambler crew members are from Newport, R.I., said Brad Read, executive director of the public sailing center Sail Newport. Harvey is a board member of the group.
"It was a scary situation," Read told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "When a keel breaks off like that and the boat goes turtle, there is no time. You're upside down. You're completely disoriented. It is pitch black, and you've got to climb your way down out of the boat and into the water."
Read said the Rambler and other new high-tech racing boats have "canting keels," which pivot and allow for greater speeds. He said the Rambler's accident is one of only a few canting keel failures that he could recall.