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Deep South Search For Yacht Suspended

DATE: 1 MARCH 2011 TIME: 10.00 PM (NZDT)
Search for missing yacht formally suspended

The search for the sailing boat Berserk and its three crew in the Southern Ocean has today (Tuesday 1 March NZDT) been formally suspended, after a week-long international search and rescue operation found no trace of the men or the vessel.

General Manager of Maritime New Zealand Safety Services, Nigel Clifford, said the major search effort had comprehensively covered all areas where the vessel or its crew could reasonably have been expected to be found.

“Sadly, given the absence of any further sign of the vessel or the crew, combined with the recent extreme weather conditions and near-freezing temperatures currently experienced in the Ross Sea, it has gone beyond the point where we could reasonably expect anyone to be found alive,” Mr Clifford said.

“Therefore, after carefully reviewing all of the information gathered over the last week, and in the absence of any further developments, the Director of Maritime New Zealand has accepted the recommendation to formally suspend the search as of 4.30pm today. This difficult decision has not been made lightly, and we pass on our deepest sympathies to the families of the three men.”

The rescue mission was launched after the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) picked up a signal from a distress beacon registered to Berserk about 5pm on Tuesday 22 February (NZDT). The yacht’s position at that time was 18 nautical miles (33km)* north of Scott Base, in the Ross Sea.

Mr Clifford said it was possible the search could be reactivated, if any significant new information came to light.

He thanked all of those involved in the search, who had worked tirelessly to try to find the missing vessel. This included the crew and helicopter pilot from the vessel Steve Irwin, and those from the expedition vessel Professor Khromov, (also known as Spirit of Enderby). The New Zealand Navy vessel HMNZS Wellington had also braved massive storms and extreme weather to help. A number of other agencies, including the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) in Norway, and personnel from the New Zealand/United States command at McMurdo Station had also provided essential logistical support.

“This was a truly international search and rescue effort, with people and agencies from a host of different countries banding together to try to find Berserk and its crew. We particularly want to acknowledge the courageous and dedicated efforts of crews from the three search vessels and helicopter involved, who selflessly put themselves on the line to help out. Tragically, our best efforts look to have been in vain.”

Mr Clifford said it was the furthest south RCCNZ had ever conducted a search and rescue operation, with extreme weather in the area and a lack of clear information about the vessel’s intentions compounding the challenge of operating in what is already a very isolated and unforgiving environment. With the calculated search area covering more than 25,000 square kilometres and the three vessels and helicopter putting in 141 hours of search time combined, this made it one of the most extensive conducted in the area.
Search details
Search area covered: The calculated search area covers an estimated 25,600km2 (note exact figures are difficult to assess given extensive ice in the area).
Resources involved: Vessels Steve Irwin, Professor Khromov (aka Spirit of Enderby), HMNZS Wellington, helicopter and sea boats from Steve Irwin, with helicopter refuelling support provided by McMurdo Station.
Total time searched: 141 hours over seven days. HMNZS Wellington, 12 hours (until turned back by weather); Steve Irwin, 84 hours; Steve Irwin helicopter, 21 hours; Professor Khromov (aka Spirit of Enderby), 24 hours.
Search technology: search mapping software, (plots tide, weather and wave conditions for moving/floating objects). Berserk’s liferaft was located in the centre of the area predicted by the mapping software used by RCCNZ Search and Rescue Officers.
Communications: Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) activated 5pm (NZDT) Tuesday 22 February, position, 18NM (33km) North of Scott Base, or 26NM (48km) North of McMurdo Station. Beacon signal ceased functioning after about 45 minutes. No other communications with Berserk despite all efforts. Satellite phone contact eventually made with ground party.
Coordinating agency: RCCNZ, staffed 24/7 by professional search and rescue responders.
Supporting agencies: JRCC Bodoe (Norway), New Zealand Defence Force, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Heritage Expeditions, New Zealand/United States Command at McMurdo Station, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (NZ), Antarctica New Zealand.
Weather: Extreme. Search hampered in early stages by severe storms, including 150km/h winds and 6-8m swells. Later eased, with good visibility and sea conditions for searching.
Vessel details: Berserk, 48ft (14m) steel hulled sailboat.
Crew: Tom Bellika and Robert Skanes (both of Norway) and Leonard Banks (of the United Kingdom) – missing. Jarle Andhoy (expedition leader) and Samuel Massie (both of Norway) – who were not on board at the time of the distress beacon activation – recovered safely from the mainland.
Survival times in water: Up to 90 minutes (with immersion suit), less than 30 minutes without immersion suit.

*Ed’s note: two distances have been used in previous media releases regarding the position of the original distress beacon alert – one is 18NM (33km) North of Scott Base, and the other is 26NM (48km) North of McMurdo Station. Both are correct.
*MNZ media releases on the Berserk search, including a detailed timeline, are also available from: http://www.maritimenz.govt.nz/News/Latest-media.asp


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