The cost of search and rescue operations in the remote waters of the southern latitudes has triggered periodic debate in countries such as Australia, which along with New Zealand and Chile, are bound by international maritime law to perform rescues in the southern latitudes.
The Vendee Globe, a single-handed race in which some of the world's best sailors shoot around Antarctica in the remote and dangerous Southern Ocean, has had its share of rescues -- some successful, some not.
In 2008, the Australian Navy frigate HMAS Arunta rescued two Vendee Globe competitors -- French yachtsman Yann Elies, who was severely injured, and Britain's Mike Golding, whose boat lost its mast. The Australian media put the cost of picking them from the Southern Ocean at $1 million.
Search and rescue missions are expensive, Pagels said. It costs about $12,000 an hour to operate a C-130 rescue craft and as much as $8,000 an hour to run a Sikorsky helicopter.
In Sunderland's case, the first visual contact was made by a diverted Qantas A330 jet airliner, a case Pagels said "I have never seen in all my years in this business." According to a statement from the airline, Qantas "was approached to make the aircraft available." An airline spokesperson declined to say how much the 13-hour flight cost or who would pick up the tab.
The Australian maritime authority also would not put a price tag on Sunderland's SAR mission but said it would not be seeking compensation for the search, which initially fell just outside the country's jurisdiction. "That's the way the system runs," said Mick Kinley, the acting chief of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. "It's our obligation to do this and we'll fulfill those obligations as Australia does."