04/06/2013 10:22 EDT | Updated 06/06/2013 05:12 EDT

Canadian Olympian's trans-Atlantic trip suffers 'catastrophic capsize'

A rowing team that includes a Canadian 2008 Olympic gold medalist has suffered a "catastrophic capsize" 73 days into an 80-day trans-Atlantic expedition.

Greg Spooner, spokesman for the expedition, said the four rowers made it safely aboard a life raft and were last seen by a U.S. Coast Guard airplane next to their overturned boat, approximately 400 miles north of Puerto Rico.

Former men's eight rower Adam Kreek, of Victoria, B.C, is part of the four-membersaid team who were hoping to complete the 6,500-kilometre journey across the Atlantic Ocean from Dakar, Senegal to Miami, Florida.

Spooner said he was contacted by the U.S. Coast Guard at 3:50 a.m. PT Saturday when its station in San Juan, Puerto Rico picked up a distress signal from the ocean-going rowboat.

The Coast Guard made visual and radio contact with the four rowers, who have since been rescued by a commercial ship that is taking them to port in Puerto Rico, said Spooner.

Spooner said he was told a large wave overtook the boat and it was unable to right itself as designed. The boat is equipped with scientific gear that was gathering data and uploading it to the web by satellite phone as part of a scientific initiative sponsored by the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

The OAR Northwest team — Adam Kreek, Jordan Hasnssen, Markus Pukonenand Pat Fleming — would have been the first crew to row from Africa to North America.