Grim outlook for missing fishermen

ALANA DIXON AND NICCI MCDOUGALL
Last updated 05:00 17/09/2012

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Two men are still missing after a fishing vessel was reported overdue on Saturday in Fiordland and debris was found.

Emergency services were alerted after the boat was overdue to dock in Milford Sound.

Western Southland sub-area commander Senior Sergeant Cynthia Fairley said skipper Kevin Cosgrove, 60, of Dodson, and crewman Nirvana Drew Reynolds, 16, of Blackball, were aboard the 11.58-metre The Governor, which operated out of Greymouth.

"Our thoughts are with the families of the missing men at this tragic time," she said.

Fishing vessels went out to search for The Governor and about 4.50pm on Saturday found a diesel spill. A liferaft and a buoyancy ring were also found, about 9 kilometres offshore southwest of the sound, she said.

At the time, there was an easterly wind and there was also a large amount of freshwater coming from the sound, after heavy rainfall in the area.

About 3pm yesterday the search and rescue team in the Southern Lakes Helicopter found a debris trail in the tide line about 36km southwest of Yates Point. This started about 9km from shore slightly north of George Sound, Ms Fairley said.

Crew aboard the fishing vessel Amazon worked through the debris yesterday to see if they could find anything and had found fish bins and pieces of wood, she said. The search would be scaled down to a limited search today.

Sergeant Ian Martin, of Invercargill search and rescue, said a Coastguard fixed-wing aircraft from Invercargill joined the search, along with a helicopter that conducted another shoreline search.

The Governor had been trawling when the skipper radioed another boat and said the vessel had become entangled in something about 11.30am on Saturday, he said.

"The last they heard of him, he was in the process of trying to unhook it," he said.

Ms Fairley said last night it was thought the vessel may have come to grief after snagging a net near Yates Point.

The Invercargill and Te Anau SAR Management Team was discussing the viability of using the police dive squad to locate the wreckage but it could be 40 metres deep, she said.

They would consider the location, depth, tidal movements and the weather, she said.

Two helicopters equipped with night vision goggles and thermal imaging equipment were also involved in the search on Saturday night. They stopped searching about 8.30pm because of weather restricting their visibility.

There were southeasterly winds of about 25 knots and swells of one to two metres on Saturday, but conditions were clearer yesterday, Mr Martin said.

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Southern Lakes Helicopters pilot Chris Green, who was involved in the search on Saturday night, said yesterday conditions at the time of the search were reasonably good apart from a strong southeasterly breeze blowing over from out of Milford, which pushed a thin layer of haze over the search area.

The haze was the reason the helicopter search was called off, as it was too unsafe to fly low in those conditions, he said.

The search area was about eight kilometres square, just off Briggs Rocks down to just south of Transit Beach, he said.

One of the fishing vessels involved on Saturday found the liferaft, along with other debris including fish tubs and a chilly bin, he said. "There was quite a large drift, and with the offshore wind coming out of Milford, it is very unlikely anybody would have been able to swim to shore, because it would be against probably a 25-knot southeasterly coming offshore".

Greymouth District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn said yesterday the community was hanging on to hope the two men would be found safe.

"We're hoping they can find them. As each hour goes by it gets tougher and tougher.

"We know the odds, especially in rough seas, are very much against these people but sometimes it turns out to be good news and we hope that's the situation this time." alana.dixon@stl.co.nz

- The Southland Times

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