Tonga Wrecking: Wednesday - Land search resumes today

A Bavaria 50 of the same type as the wrecked yacht which has been found on Late near Tonga
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Wednesday: A party of nine searchers have spent the night on the island of Late, west of Vava’u, Tonga, with the land-based search continuing 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 yesterday 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 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.

However, hope for the missing sailors has been fuelled by a story of survival from a previous group who were stranded on the uninhabited Tongan island of Late.

Matangi Tonga reporter Mary Lyn Fonua said she yesterday received a letter from a Tongan reader who said he was part of a group that survived on Late for a week.

'When he was 18, he was stranded on the island with a group of seismologists and a couple of Tongan guides,' Ms Fonua said.

'He described there being a landing place on the north of the island and an old settlement site there with overgrown gardens.

'They were able to survive on wild bananas and coconuts and also by getting shellfish. They survived for a week on the island before they were rescued.'

Flinders Ports general manager marine operations Carl Kavina said Mr Thompson's survival instincts would hold him in good stead if he were able to make it to Late.

'He would have been trained in survival at sea matters when he did his master mariner training,' he said.

'I'm very hopeful that he has made it to the island.

'Hopefully, fingers crossed, they can find him.'

Mr Thompson, aged in his 60s, is a ship's captain and marine pilot based at Port Adelaide. He had travelled to the Caribbean to buy the Navillus and was sailing it back to Australia when the yacht ran aground.