HONOLULU – The body of a paraplegic woman rowing from California to Hawaii was headed to Tahiti after she was found lifeless in the water, the U.S. Coast Guard said Thursday.
A friend of Angela Madsen, 60, contacted the Coast Guard Sunday after not hearing from her for more than 24 hours, Chief Petty Officer Sara Muir said.
Madsen, who had been at sea for 59 days, was about 1,145 miles (1,842 kilometers) east of Hilo, Hawaii, when she was last heard from, Muir said. Madsen had been planning to go for a swim.
“She was out in the middle of the ocean, with not really anything around,” Muir said.
The Coast Guard reached out to commercial vessels in the area of Madsen's last known location and asked an Air National Guard flight crew headed from California to Hawaii to fly over the area.
The air crew “could see that she was in the water, tethered to the vessel, but there was no reaction to their presence,” Muir said. “She was unresponsive.”
The Polynesia, a ship in the area, retrieved her body. “Now they're continuing on their scheduled course and they're going to take the body to Tahiti, where the family will do whatever they need to do to get her home to California,” Muir said.
Madsen's family couldn't immediately be reached Thursday.
According to a website, rowoflife.org, Madesen was a three-time Paralympian and Marine Corps veteran who aimed to be the first paraplegic and oldest woman to row the Pacific Ocean.
“We are processing this devastating loss,” said a message on the website by Debra Madsen, her wife, and Soraya Simi, who was making a documentary about her. "To row an ocean solo was her biggest goal. She knew the risks better than any of us and was willing to take those risks because being at sea made her happier than anything else. She told us time and again that if she died trying, that is how she wanted to go."
In 2014, while getting ready to row from California to Hawaii, Angela Madsen said rowing is a venue where partially paralyzed people can excel.
“You get out of your chair and just get on a boat and nobody knows the difference between you and anybody else out here,” she said.