Phone call home triggers search for two yachtsmen missing off Tonga

Vava’u Tonga near Late where the Bavaria 50 was wrecked
© Mike Rose
A second full day of searching has failed to find two men missing since their yacht was wrecked off the island of Late, west of the island of Vava’u, Tonga, on Thursday night.

The Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) is coordinating the search for an Australian and an Englishman (also an Australian citizen), both in their sixties, who reported via a satellite phone call to a relative in Victoria, Australia, that they had run aground and their 50ft Bavaria yacht, Navillus, was breaking up.

An emergency locator beacon was activated at the same time, around 10.30pm.

An on-water search yesterday, involving two local fishing vessels, and an aerial search by an RNZAF P3 Orion, located the wreckage of the yacht, but did not find the two men.

Today, a local fishing vessel searched waters near Late Island, and a fixed wing aircraft conducted an aerial search, with no success.

RCCNZ Search and Rescue Mission Coordinator Tracy Brickles said searching had now concluded for the day.

'The fishing vessel has today comprehensively covered the likely areas identified through our drift modelling,' Ms Brickles said.

'Conditions were good for searching and our search crews are confident they would have seen the men if they had been in the water.

'On-water and aerial searching is now complete.'

Ms Brickles said crew from one of the fishing vessels had gone ashore yesterday to check the nearest landing points to the area the wreck was found. However, RCCNZ was in the process of organising a team of locals to do a more comprehensive search of the island.

'We hope to have a team of locals onshore searching tomorrow, or Monday at the latest, depending on availability of people and transport.'

An on-water search yesterday, involving two local fishing vessels, and an aerial search by an RNZAF P3 Orion, located the wreckage of the yacht, but did not find the two men.

A local fishing vessel resumed searching for the men this morning and a fixed wing aircraft from a local commercial carrier, Air Chathams, conducted another aerial search over Late Island.

The island of Late is located to the west of Vava’u, Tonga
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Search and Rescue Mission Coordinator Tracy Brickles said the Orion had completed the search area determined for it by RCCNZ, Friday, and returned to New Zealand.

'The Orion covered an area of approximately 191 square nautical miles yesterday. The conditions were good and the searchers are confident they would have seen the men if they had been within the search area.

'Today, the aircraft will focus on the island to see if the men have reached the shoreline.'

The fishing vessel will conduct an on-water search using plans determined by RCCNZ based on drift patterns.

Conditions in the area at the moment are good for searching with light winds from the north west.

Yesterday, the hull of the yacht, debris and an undeployed liferaft were all found by the search teams.

Crew from one of the fishing vessels went ashore yesterday to check landing points on Late Island near where the hull was found.

Ms Brickles said survival time in the water was estimated at 36 hours, but this would be extended if lifejackets were worn.

The yacht is understood to have been en route from the Caribbean to Bundaberg.

The Police in Victoria are coordinating contact with the next of kin.

Late yesterday afternoon, Maritime NZ advised that searching was underway for two men missing after the 50ft yacht Navillus.

The Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) advised that they were coordinating the search for an Australian and an Englishman, both in their sixties, who reported via a satellite phone call to a relative in Victoria, Australia, that they had run aground and their Bavaria yacht was breaking up.

Search and rescue mission coordinator Geoff Lunt said an RNZAF Orion was sent to the area Friday morning and had searched the drift area identified by RCCNZ, so far without success. Two fishing boats from Vava’u were also involved in the search.

'They have located the hull of the vessel, and seen a lot of debris,' Mr Lunt said. 'The yacht’s dinghy has been found, and an undeployed liferaft, as well as a number of lifejackets.

'There are a number of potential landing points on the island near to where the hull was found, and crew from one of the search vessels has gone ashore to inspect these.'

The fishing boats have now left the search area in order to reach port before nightfall, with the Orion also due to land in Tonga.

'Survival time in the water is estimated at 36 hours and this would be extended if lifejackets were worn,' Mr Lunt said.