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Missing man located after a long search

Missing man located after a long search that almost cost him his life

At 00:006 hours this morning Coastguard’s Northern Region Operations Centre was alerted by Police to an urgent situation unfolding at Whangarei Heads.

A 29ft Yacht one person on board had hit rocks and was sinking reportedly at the entrance to the harbour. The sole male occupant on board was not wearing a lifejacket and in his haste to evacuate his yacht could not locate his lifejacket or flares in time, his only communications was via mobile phone. In his favor, he had abandoned his yacht to a 3m inflatable dinghy with an outboard, however initial reports from the person indicated that this was without fuel. The person was sure he was aground by the number 7 buoy off Home Point.

Coastguard Volunteers were called out to respond on board Circa Rescue. Upon arrival at Home Point, they reported no sign of the vessel, Circa Rescue then continued a shore line search to Bream Head, and still returned no sighting of the vessel.

Further communications with the missing person suggested passage was attempted between a small rock and the headland, as ‘he had done with his father’. Further communications with a family friend confirmed this is the most likely location. However Circa Rescue crew had searched the area concerned twice and reported nothing seen. Circa Rescue was then tasked to search more islands matching this description further into the Harbour, as there were some discrepancies in the information provided that suggested the location the stricken yacht was in, was not the location the skipper believed it to be.

The Refinery Rescue vessel wall called in to the search (01:20) and began a shore line search of the northern shore line between Reotahi and Urqharts Bay, also revealing no sign of the yacht. Once the area had been covered by both Coastguard Volunteers on Circa Rescue and Refinery Rescue the situation was becoming clear the yacht was not in the location first advised. Circa Rescue was positioned in a location where it would be most visible and deployed a white marker flare, this was sighted by all people involved in the search at the time, but not the missing person, confirming that he was indeed not in the area he initially though he was.

At this time (03:30) further options were being explored, including Police obtaining a Cellphone triangulation from the missing person’s service provider, which only showed one cell tower being active, proved to be of little help. Circa Rescue having covered the area of Whangarei Heads and proved the yacht was not in that area could do very little more and the Volunteers on board had been searching for three hours and were returned to base as they may have been needed again at first light.

While in constant communication with the missing person via cell phone he advised that he hopped into his dinghy and started to motor up the channel, while talking to him he then advised he had hit a sand bank. Becoming confused and disoriented he realized that if had been where he thought he was, this ‘sand bank’ should not have been where it was. On return to Marsden Point, Refinery Rescue was asked to check Mair Bank, which returned no result. As the conversation with the missing person continued, he advised he was not on a sand bank, but was now walking on dry sand. He indicated he could see lights at a ‘bach’ and was instructed to go to that bach and ask the people inside to call 111. As he walked towards the house he was stopped by a ‘deep estuary’ and could not proceed any further. He advised he was going to get in his dinghy again and go up the estuary, despite being advised not to. Communication with the missing person were then lost, and the Coastguard Operations Centre was unable to re-establish communications.

At this point Surf Lifesaving volunteers from Ruakaka, Waipu Cove and Mangawhai Head Surf Life Saving Clubs were activated and tasked with on shore, shore line searches of their respective beaches.

Upon reaching the club house at Mangawhai Heads, local guards reported seeing a yacht aground on Sentinel Rock at the entrance to Mangawhai Harbour. Surf Lifeguards then began a more detailed search of the Mangawhai Estuary and eventually on the outside of the harbor. During this search, the missing person was located in his dinghy approximately half a nautical mile south east of Sentinel Rock at 04:30 hours.

The man was reported as being severely hypothermic and in a state of shock, and was soaking wet from at some stage being in the water. Surf Lifeguards transferred the man to the care of Police and Ambulance at Mangawhai boat ramp at 04:35 hours.

This incident shows the importance of carrying more than one form of water proof communication says Mark Leevers, Coastguard Duty Officer. “Should a flare of EPIRB been available this would have significantly reduced the search time from a 4.5 hours search that very nearly cost someone their life” says Mr Leevers.

Mr Leevers says “In addition we just can’t stress enough the importance of taking and wearing you lifejacket when out on the water. Things can happen in an instant and by wearing your lifejacket you’re giving yourself the best chance of survival”.

Coastguard’s Old4New Lifejacket Upgrade has kicked off and runs through to the end of January encouraging boaties and members of the public to bring along their old lifejackets and trade them in for a brand new fit for purpose quality lifejacket at a great trade-in discount. This is a big part of Coastguard’s safe boating advocacy and is a great chance for kiwis to get sorted for summer. The Old4New van laden full with lifejackets is travelling around the Northland, Auckland, Coromandel and Waikato on weekends and key days throughout the summer holiday period, for more information and to find a location near you visit www.coastguard.org.nz.


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