The Kon-Tiki2 expedition
had been sailing two balsa rafts from Peru to Easter Island and back, documenting climate change, marine life and the impact of pollution.
The crew had spent 114 days on the Pacific Ocean, reaching Easter Island and covering 4,500 nautical miles (8,334 km) before they requested a rescue Wednesday around 950 nautical miles from Chile "due to atypical winds."
"This is an El Nino
year and the weather patterns we have encountered have been atypical. 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 in a statement.
The Chilean navy said it received the rescue request Wednesday after one of the rafts "lost navigational capability." It instructed a merchant vessel in the rafts' area -- the Hokuetsu Ushaka -- to come to the expedition's aid.
A navy boat and plane were also dispatched, the latter establishing the exact location of the vessels Thursday.
It is expected the crew of the Kon-Tiki2 will be transferred to the naval vessel Saturday local time and returned to land Monday, according to the Chilean navy.
"We maintained permanent contact with them, since they departed from Easter Island, foreseeing that they could be experiencing some issues," said Mario Montejo, director of security and maritime operations.
"They are in good health, a little tired. The rafts were beginning to deteriorate and that made the stay of the people on board risky," he said.
Social media photos show the expedition crew dismantling what had been their home for more than four months and retrieving monitoring equipment prior to abandoning the rafts.
'Backwards and forwards'
In a blog post Monday
, crew member Lisa te Heuheu described the adverse conditions that had hit the rafts, saying they had seen the wildest weather of their journey over the two days prior.
"The waves were throwing us around like a spin cycle on a washing machine and the 5-6 meter holes we were falling into felt as though you were being swallowed whole by the ocean itself," she wrote.
"With the wind in an unfavorable direction, our sail has been down now for almost 36 hours, the easterly position we had made before the storm is slowly coming upon us as we are pushed West by winds and currents."
The weather, she said, was erasing their gains.
"It is hard to swallow this backwards and forwards of sailing out here. Every day that you gain seems to be taken away in a single stormy event," she said.
The original -- Thor Heyerdahl
The Chilean navy said the Kon-Tiki2 left Peru in November , arriving in Easter Island on December 15. Weather conditions diverted the rafts as they traveled toward Valparaiso, Chile, on January 1, sending them farther south.
Heyerdahl was trying to prove that people from South America could have colonized Polynesia.
"Kon-Tiki2 got its name because we seek to double-down on Thor Heyerdahl's famous voyage by sailing two rafts from South America to Polynesia and then back," the expedition's website says.