CANBERRA, Australia – A 16-year-old sailor on a round-the-world journey was adrift in the frigid southern Indian Ocean on Friday as rescue boats headed toward her yacht, damaged by 30-foot waves that knocked out her communications and prompted her to set off a distress signal.

After a tense 20 hours of silence, a search plane launched from Australia’s west coast made radio contact with Abby Sunderland on Friday.

The boat’s mast was broken — ruining satellite phone reception — and was dragging with the sail in the ocean, said search coordinator Mick Kinley, acting chief of the Australia Maritime Safety Authority that chartered a commercial jet for the search.

But the keel was intact, the yacht was not taking on water and Abby was equipped for the conditions, he said.

“The aircraft (crew) spoke to her. They told her help was on the way and she sounds like she’s in good health,” Kinley told reporters in Canberra.

“She’s going to hang in there until a vessel can get to her,” probably early today, he said.

A lifelong sailor, Abby had begun her journey trying to be the youngest person to sail solo, nonstop around the world and continued her trip after mechanical failures dashed that dream.

Abby told searchers that she was doing fine with a space heater and at least two weeks’ worth of food, said family spokesman William Bennett. Support team member Jeff Casher said the boat had gotten knocked on its side several times.

Abby’s father, Lawrence Sunderland, said he was especially thankful for Australia’s quick response in sending out a search plane.

“It was just very, very, very good news,” he told NBC’s “Today” show Friday.

Abby’s brother, Zac, himself a veteran of a solo sail around the world at age 17, said he told his sister to be prepared for storms and other problems. But he said it’s in her nature to handle those calmly.

“I think Abby is quite a conqueror, quite level-headed,” her brother said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Responding to criticism that it was far too dangerous to allow a 16-year-old to sail around the world by herself, Lawrence Sunderland told ABC that those people didn’t know how carefully he had considered his decision to let her go.

“You don’t know Abigail, you don’t know how long she’s been out there on the ocean,” he said.

But renowned Australian round-the-world sailor Ian Kiernan said Abby should not have been in the southern Indian Ocean during the current southern hemisphere winter.

“Abby would be going through a very difficult time with mountainous seas and essentially hurricane-force winds,” Kiernan told Sky News television.

Conditions can quickly become perilous for any sailor exposed to the elements in that part of the world.

Abby — whose father is a shipwright and has a yacht management company — set sail from Los Angeles County’s Marina del Rey in her boat, Wild Eyes, on Jan. 23 in an attempt to become the youngest person to sail around the world alone without stopping. Her brother briefly held the record in 2009.

Abby soon ran into equipment problems and had to stop for repairs. She gave up the goal of setting the record in April, but continued on.

On May 15, Australian 16-year-old Jessica Watson claimed the record after completing a 23,000-mile circumnavigation in 210 days. Jessica and her family sent a private message of hope to Abby’s family, spokesman Andrew Fraser said.