A former Australian spy and war crimes investigator has died skippering a rowing boat in a race across the Atlantic Ocean.
Alisdair Putt, who had planned to spend his 62nd birthday on the boat, suffered a heart attack while competing in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic rowing race from the Canary Islands to Antigua.
Race organisers confirmed he died on 4 January, despite the efforts of his crewmates to save him.
“It is with heartfelt sadness that we must convey the news of the death of Alisdair Putt – skipper of the four-person team, Aussie Old Salts,” competition organisers said in a statement.
Organisers said Putt had a cardiac-related event while on deck, but his death would be investigated.
“Despite the rest of the crew’s continuous efforts, resuscitation was not successful. Next of kin have been informed,” they said.
Putt’s crewmates – Stuart Moore, Andreas Koenig and Alastair Horton – were onboard a safety vessel heading back to land.
“This tragedy will of course also have a profound impact on the other 37 teams we have still racing across the Atlantic,” race organisers said.
“Our most sincere condolences are wholeheartedly offered to the families, friends and supporters of the Putt family, and the whole of the Aussie Old Salts team.
“The family of Alisdair have asked for understanding and support in respecting their privacy during this period of mourning.”
The Old Salts were the only Australian team entered in the 4,800km race, billed as the World’s Toughest Row. The crew was raising money for a military veterans’ transition centre and an Indigenous women’s crisis centre in Kununurra. Three of the crew were former or serving members of the Royal Australian Navy or Australian Army.
Putt, from Mount Hawthorn in Perth, had previously worked for the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (Asio), and as a war crimes investigator in Darfur, the former Yugoslavia, and in Rwanda.
Speaking to the Department of Defence before he left, Putt described the mission to row across the Atlantic – two hours on, two hours off, 24 hours a day, for six weeks – as “a bit daunting”.
“There have been more people who have climbed Mount Everest than rowed across the Atlantic,” Putt said.
“The team managed to achieve the necessary time out on the water whilst in the UK to qualify for the race, despite the inconsistent British summer weather, which frequently saw four seasons in a day.”
Offshore sailor and rower Liz Wardley posted a tribute from onboard her vessel. She said news of Putt’s death was “pretty raw”.
“It’s an unimaginable situation, I imagine it’s touched the whole fleet,” she said in a video posted online.
“He was such a great guy, he always had time for a chat, a laugh, a beer … it’s such a sad day.”