Only one in capsized boat wore lifejacket

Last updated 14:05 29/01/2013
Search for missing man
MARYANNE TWENTYMAN/Fairfax NZ

LOST: Searchers are looking for a man thrown overboard when his boat capsized north of Tauranga last night.

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A Waihi Beach fisherman who came across those who escaped a capsized boat near Matakana Island says he hopes lessons can be learned from the tragedy.

The search resumed this morning for a missing 52-year-old who never made it ashore with his four children, aged seven to 23, after the boat they were in was hit by a rogue wave.

Police have revealed that life jackets were on board the boat, but just one of the five people on board was wearing one.

Fisherman Warren Coffey said he and a friend were out fishing about 7.30pm when they came across the upside-down boat.

They then saw four people - three children and an adult - on a nearby island waving for help.

The pair rescued the group and that was when the children told him their father was missing.

"So we just rang the police," Coffey said.

He helped with the search last night and returned this morning.

"I just feel really sad that it's happened in this small community and that someone has lost a father, uncle, brother ... I just hope that this story helps get the message out there," he said.

"It's normally a pretty safe place, but the Bowentown bar can be a pretty dangerous place ... you just have to wear your lifejacket all the time."

Waikato police said it was surprising they were not searching for more missing people today as they continued to scour land and sea for any sign of the boat's 52-year-old skipper from Katikati.

The group's six-metre boat capsized after crossing the bar between Bowentown and Matakana Island about 5.30pm.

The missing man's youngest child, aged seven, was wearing a lifejacket while his two other children aged 23 and 15 were not. A 14-year-old family friend was also not wearing a lifejacket.

Sergeant Warren Shaw from Waikato police search and rescue said the man was an experienced boatie having lived in the area for more than 40 years.

"We always hold a glimmer of hope [that the man will be found] but the longer this search goes on we have to be realistic about what we are looking for," he said.

An air, land and sea search of the Tauranga Harbour continued today with conditions so clear that searchers could see jellyfish from the air.

People arrived at the coastguard headquarters in Bowentown this morning bringing food and support for the search and rescue personnel and family members.

Shaw said the four family members and one friend left Tanners Point, near Athenree, at about 4.30pm and after spending time near the Matakana ski lanes, carried on through the Bowentown Bar.

"At about 5.30pm the boat capsized and all five on board were thrown into the water," Shaw said.

"They all made it back to the upturned boat but then they were washed away again and were separated."

Coastguard radio control operator and duty officer Brian Grimwood said conditions at the time were moderate to rough.

"Conditions at the time were an easterly swell of 1-1.5 metres, the wind was 10-15 knots, the bar can get quite dangerous, but basically the sea conditions were moderate to rough at the time," he said.

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But other boaties said they would not have considered crossing the bar given conditions at the time.

An experienced boatie with more than 35 years experience, who did not wish to be named, said he would not have entertained the idea of crossing the bar.

"It was bloody rough out there," he said.

"The easterly was strong and I kept away - but I really feel for the family involved."

Grimwood said safety at sea was something that should always be taken into account.

"We don't know whether they were anchored or drifting at the time but at the end of the day what we can say is that life jackets save lives," he said.

- Stuff

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