March 18, 2016 / 3:34 PM / in 2 years

'Kon-Tiki 2' expedition cut short as rafters call navy for rescue

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - An attempt to make a return journey by balsa raft across the Pacific Ocean from South America to Easter Island has been cut short after bad weather forced the expedition to call in the Chilean navy to rescue them.

A raft of the Kon-Tiki 2 international raft expedition, is seen during a Chilean Navy rescue operation on a merchant ship, in Pacific Ocean waters off Puerto Montt, southern Chile in this Chilean Navy handout photo taken March 17, 2016. REUTERS/Chilean Navy/Handout via Reuters

The ‘Kon-Tiki 2’ was an effort to sail by raft from South America to Polynesia. It was inspired by the 1947 one-way trip by Norwegian explorer and writer Thor Heyerdahl, who named the raft after the Inca sun god.

Unlike the first expedition, Kon-Tiki 2 was attempting a round trip. Easter Island is about 2,300 miles from Chile’s west coast.

Both voyages were intended to show that it was possible for Native Americans and Polynesians inhabiting remote Easter Island to have made contact before the arrival of Europeans.

The first leg of Kon-Tiki 2, which was also led by Norwegians, left Peru in November 2015 and reached Easter Island after 43 days at sea.

The return trip, which set off early in January, was made difficult by atypical weather patterns, possibly related to El Nino, according to the 14-member expedition team.

A raft of the Kon-Tiki 2 international raft expedition, is seen on the Pacific Ocean after it was severely damaged by strong waves, during a rescue operation by Chilean Navy, in waters off Puerto Montt, in southern Chile in this Chilean Navy handout photo taken March 17, 2016. REUTERS/Chilean Navy/Handout via Reuters

The Chilean navy said late on Thursday that it had received a rescue request on Wednesday after one of the rafts could no longer navigable. The rafts were 995 nautical miles (1,600 kilometers) west of the Chilean coast.

The crew was rescued by a nearby freighter about two hours later, the navy said.

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“We realize that reaching South America will take too long and we prefer to evacuate to ensure safety for all,” expedition leader Torgeir Higraff said on the expedition’s website.

“They are in a good state of health, a little tired. The rafts were beginning to deteriorate and that made it risky for the people to stay on board,” the navy said.

Higraff said the balsa rafts had been “exceptional vessels at sea” and had shown that it was possible for such boats to make the journey from South America to Easter Island.

The rafts had also collected valuable data for research into climate change and pollution, he said.

Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Toni Reinhold

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