A statement released Tuesday by the support team in contact with “The Toby Wallace” confirmed that their Atlantic row was over with one rower missing at sea.
The short statement said:
“It is with a profoundly heavy heart we have to announce one of our Rowboat Toby Wallace rowers is missing at sea.
In the early hours of Monday 15th February 4 of the 8 person crew were rowing (at location close to: 18 29’ N 039 06’ W) in moderately heavy seas when a wave swept across part of the rowing deck. Michael Johnson (21) from Zimbabwe was swept off his seat and into the sea. The force of the wave caused his safety line – attaching him to the boat – to break.
The force of the waves and wind conditions at the time caused Mike and the boat to move apart. The crew tried their utmost to stop the Toby Wallace and row back up into the conditions, but this proved impossible. They triggered their EPIRB (Emergency Position Information Reporting Beacon) and contacted UK HM Coastguard by Satellite Phone. The crew also deployed their life raft as a sea anchor, to slow their progress, in the hope that Michael would drift to their position.
Working with Portuguese coastguard coordination, UK HM coastguard requested any shipping in the area to aid a search for Michael. A cargo ship changed course to the location and two aircraft were deployed to help with the search. By the time any search assets arrived in the area it was daylight (first aircraft reported on location at 12:00 GMT). The area was searched throughout day until fading light forced an end to operations with no sign of Michael.
At last light the remaining 7 crew of the Toby Wallace were transferred to the search ship and will be transferred to land when the ship next makes port.
Both UK and Portuguese Coastguard have declared a termination of search operations, but Michael’s family are desperate for the search to continue and appeal to anyone who can help”.
We did not know Michael Johnson personally but Iwan of team MAMIL SPORTS who is part of the Toby Wallace Crew spoke of him very highly and, by all accounts, he was an exceptional 21 year old.
Michael’s biography on the Oceanus Rowing website crew profile page reads:
6’1” and (with) a strong rowing background, he will certainly pull his weight! A friend of Murray’s he has competed and trained with him for a long time. Mike has been rowing since 2007 and has competed in various junior world rowing championships as well as been a rowing coach. He is a keen sportsman with cross country and cycling to add to the list, as well as being a keen angler (no fishing on speed record attempts though!). Currently working on the family farm in Zimbabwe, his future lies firmly in the British military – specifically in the Para Regiment, because jumping out of planes “sounds like fun”. A good sense of humour, Mike will be a real asset to the crew.
R.I.P – a short life lived to the full. He achieved more than many of us manage in a lifetime.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Michael, the crew the support team and their wider families at this incredibly difficult time.