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Va. couple who went missing during sailing trip found safe, Coast Guard says

Yanni Nikopoulos, left, and Dale Jones were reported missing June 20 while sailing from Virginia to Azores, Portugal. (U.S. Coast Guard)

Eleven days after a Virginia couple went missing during a sailing trip to Portugal’s Azores islands, they have been found safe, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

Yanni Nikopoulos and Dale Jones, both 65, of Virginia Beach, contacted the Coast Guard on Friday to report that their boat had been struck by lightning while sailing through a storm but were able to repair a damaged sail and were headed back to Hampton, Va., Coast Guard officials said in a statement.

The couple, who were about 80 miles east of Chincoteague, Va., at the time of the call, did not request assistance from the Coast Guard, officials said.

“We are extremely happy to learn Yanni and Dale are found and are safe,” James Cifers, operations unit watch stander in the Fifth District command center, said in a statement. “It is truly wonderful the pair will be reunited with their friends and family soon.”

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Nikopoulos and Jones departed June 8 from Old Comfort Point Marina in Hampton and set sail for the Azores, an archipelago of nine volcanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean known for dolphin and whale watching. Five days later, on June 13, the couple communicated that their vessel, Kyklades, had sustained damage and that they were returning home, the Coast Guard said.

On June 17, Jones’s daughter, who has not been publicly identified, contacted the Coast Guard, saying she had not heard from her mother since that communication and she was concerned. The couple did not have a set return date but were anticipated to return Monday and never made it home, Jones’s daughter told the Coast Guard.

Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Connie Terrell told The Washington Post on Wednesday that the damage was reportedly to a sail. She said the couple had a backup sail, but “we’re not sure whether they were able to make repairs out at sea and continue on to the Azores or if they turned around and went farther north.”

Terrell said at the time that the Coast Guard did not have reason to believe the couple were in distress but was investigating to determine where they were located. She said the Coast Guard Fifth District was working with the Coast Guard’s First District, which covers New England, as well as authorities in the Azores, Bermuda and Canada to see whether the couple had turned up in another jurisdiction.

A formal search was not initiated because the potential search area was so vast, but the Coast Guard took steps to help find them. The Fifth District command center issued an urgent marine information broadcast to alert other boaters in the area who might have seen them and deployed two HC-130 Hercules search-and-rescue aircrews, one of which was on a routine mission but kept “a sharp lookout” for them, Terrell said. The Coast Guard also started tracking their cellphone and radio pings to narrow down a search area.

To protect the couple’s privacy, the Coast Guard has not released the time or location of their anticipated arrival in Virginia.