Kaipara Harbour tragedy: Search for lost fisherman called off

The Francie charter boat capsized on the Kaipara Harbour on Saturday.

The Francie charter boat capsized on the Kaipara Harbour on Saturday.

Police have called off the search for the final missing person, Taulagi Afamasaga, from the Kaipara Harbour tragedy.

Seven dead have already been recovered from the sinking of The Francie fishing charter boat as it tried to cross the Kaipara bar on Saturday.

Just three survived of the 11 on board.

Inspector Willi Fanene, right, and Inspector Mark Fergus, left, update media after seven people died in a fishing boat ...
Fiona Goodall

Inspector Willi Fanene, right, and Inspector Mark Fergus, left, update media after seven people died in a fishing boat tragedy on the Kaipara Harbour.

Afamasaga was the only one not yet found.

Five dead, three unaccounted for after boat capsizes in Kaipara Harbour
Kaipara Harbour disaster: Search continues for missing person
Kaipara Harbour disaster: Tragic boatie's daughter studying to become a skipper
Pilot tells of dramatic rescue of two people from the water in Kaipara Harbour

Police said Afamasaga has "well passed the survivability expectations in the conditions."

The Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter crew attends after the Francie capsized in the Kaipara Harbour on November 26.

The Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter crew attends after the Francie capsized in the Kaipara Harbour on November 26.

They have now called off the search for him.

"We have reached the point where there is no further information to support the continuation of an air and land search, and the formal search and rescue operation will be suspended today at midday."

Waitemata police Inspector Mark Fergus said the police Eagle helicopter conducted further aerial sweeps of the coastline and up around the Kaipara Harbour on Wednesday night.

The Francie sank as it tried to enter Kaipara Harbour after a fishing charter. 

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The boat requested a 60-minute watch as it began to cross the bar, meaning the Coastguard would contact them again after 60 minutes to make sure they were safe.

By 3.02pm when The Francie still hadn't been heard from, the alert was raised.

Fergus said: "We have also consulted with specialists, including medical specialists, and sadly we have now well passed the survivability expectations in the conditions."

He said the decision to formally suspend the Search and Rescue operation wasn't easy.

"Activity is continuing to find The Francie boat, and based on our investigations over the past few days, we believe we have narrowed down the area that the capsize occurred."

He said police intend to conduct aerial searches and possibly some underwater or sub-surface searching.

"The tides, currents and sea conditions in the area where the boat capsized are notoriously difficult.

"We still hope to be able to return Mr Afamasaga to his family and we continue to support them through this terrible time."

Helicopter captain Paul Robinson battled high winds, big swells and poor visibility as he and his crew rescued two survivors from Saturday's Kaipara bar fishing boat tragedy.

Robinson said the two people he rescued from the water were clinging to a small piece of debris and struggling to remain afloat.

"We retrieved those persons from the water. They were alive and we winched them up to the helicopter and transported them to the beach.

"We continued searching and retrieved a number of others who were unfortunately deceased."

Captain Tim Burfoot, the chief investigator for the Transport Accident Investigation Commission, said an investigation into the sinking was progressing well.

"We have a team of four investigators currently working in the Auckland area. They have carried out a number of interviews and more are planned."

The team was likely to remain in the area until the end of the week.

Anyone who had information on The Francie, especially those who were on board on previous occasions, was asked to make contact by registering their details on the home page of the commission's website.

Burfoot said the information would be treated in strict confidence by investigators.

 - Stuff

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