A 62-year-old Frenchman survived for 16 hours in an air bubble inside his capsized sailboat in the Atlantic Ocean before being rescued in an operation described as “bordering on the impossible”.

The 40ft sailor Jeanne SOLO sent out a distress signal at 8.23pm on Monday from 14 miles from the Sisargas Islands off Spain’s northwest Galicia region, the coastguard said.

A salvage vessel carrying five divers set sail to rescue the man, who has not been named, as one of three helicopters sent to assist in the search located the overturned vessel as the sun set.

The man responded to divers searching for signs of life by striking the hull from the inside.

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Photo: Salvamento Maritimo

However, at the time the seas were too rough to attempt a rescue, so the team attached buoyancy balloons to the ship’s hull to prevent it from sinking further and waited until morning.

The man was found under the boat wearing a neoprene survival suit knee-deep in water as two divers swam underwater to help him.

He was airlifted to safety and taken to hospital for checks, but was released shortly afterwards without any issues.

Vicente Cobelo, a member of the Coast Guard’s special operations team, told a local station that the man voluntarily jumped into the freezing water and swam under the boat to reach the surface of the sea.

He said: “On his own initiative he got into the water and snorkeled, helped by the divers who had to pull him because it was difficult for him to get out in his wetsuit.”

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Tracking data had shown that the Jeanne SOLO Sailor had left the Portuguese capital of Lisbon the morning of the previous day.

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