Tonga Wrecking: Tuesday PM update - Searchers stay overnight on Late

A Bavaria 50 of the same type as the wrecked yacht which has been found on Late near Tonga
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Tuesday 1600hrs: A party of nine searchers will spend the night on the island of Late, west of Vava’u, Tonga, with the land-based search continuing tomorrow for two men missing since their yacht, Navillus, was wrecked last Thursday night.

After two days of high seas, two fishing vessels successfully landed the searchers on the island and have also completed a sea-based search of the coastline around the island, with no sign found of the two men, who have been named in the New Zealand media as Australians Ian Thompson and Erwin Claus.

The conical island is bush-clad at shore level, although at its highest point, 518m, it is mostly clear of vegetation.

Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) Search and Rescue Mission Coordinator Mike Roberts said the search of the island should be completed tomorrow.

Two full days of aerial and on-water searching have so far failed to locate the two Australian men, 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 on Thursday.

The yacht’s wreckage was found the next day but extensive on-water searching following drift modelling undertaken by RCCNZ, as well as an aerial search of over 191 square nautical miles by an RNZAF P3 Orion failed to find the men. A significant amount of debris/flotsam was found in a trail offshore and to the south of the wrecked yacht's position, which was recovered ashore by rescue vessels.

Tuesday 0800: Sixteen searchers have today been put ashore to make a land-based search of the island of Late, west of Vava’u, Tonga, for two men missing since their yacht, Navillus, was wrecked last Thursday night.

For the past two days, high seas with three metre swells have prevented searchers being landed on the island, which is largely surrounded by cliffs.

RCCNZ Search and Rescue Mission Coordinator Mike Roberts said a search of the island could take two days.

'The searchers have been landed ashore and they will camp overnight if necessary,' he said.

'In addition, we hope to have a vessel do a shoreline search around the island, using kayaks and dinghys, and hopefully also land people ashore. It is hoped that further attempts will be made to dive on the wreck of the more significant parts of Navillus which have already been located, to check for the presence of the yacht’s dinghy.'

Monday: An attempt will be made today to undertake a land-based search of the island of Late, west of the island of Vava’u, Tonga, for two men missing since their yacht was wrecked on Thursday, the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) says.


Two full days of aerial and on-water searching have so far failed to locate the two Australian men, 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 on Thursday.

The $320,000 yacht’s wreckage was found the next day but extensive on-water searching following drift modelling undertaken by RCCNZ, as well as an aerial search of over 191 square nautical miles by a RNZAF P3 Orion failed to find the men.

Yesterday, a search team made up of locals familiar with the island terrain planned to do a land search of the island to check whether the men had made it ashore. High sea states prevented the search.

RCCNZ Search and Rescue Mission Coordinator John Dickson said it was important a comprehensive search of the island was done to rule out the possibility the men had made it ashore and were waiting for assistance.

'However, we can’t put our search teams in danger. They will only land ashore if the conditions permit – at the moment it’s looking too rough but hopefully the sea state will abate later today,' Mr Dickson said.

Originally RRCCNZ said there was no boat available to transfer searchers to late today, however an hour later a fishing boat was located, but rough seas precluded landing on the island to undertake a more detailed search.

A search party of six is heading out to the island. It is expected they will spend the day searching the island. The island is small with very rocky, volcanic terrain.

'Crew members from the search vessels have already landed on Late to check the most likely landing points for signs of the men coming ashore,' Mr Dickson said.

'However, we want a grid-search of the island undertaken so we can state with absolute confidence that the island has been comprehensively covered.'

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

RCCNZ will not release the names of those involved.