NZ rescue authorities accused of being callous

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 12:47 21/07/2013

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A private search for the missing American yacht Nina with seven people aboard in the Tasman Sea has passed another day without success but came as New Zealand's Rescue Co-ordination Centre (RCCNZ) has been accused of being callous.

Nina left Opua in May and was last heard of on June 4 as it was hit by the worst winter storm suffered by New Zealand this year.

RCCNZ gave up their search on July 6 after no trace of Nina was found.

Family of one of the crew, 18-year-old Danielle Wright, have hired a Texas search group, Texas Equu Search (TES), to run aerial searches from Newcastle, New South Wales.

The company says that on the third day of their search they checked the infamous Middleton Reef and nearby Elizabeth Reef, 560 kilometres off the NSW coast. Countless shipwrecks have occurred there.

But they say there was no sign of anything.

The group say a private pilot in New Zealand has donated his plane and time to do further searches on the coast here.

TES official Ralph Baird told a sailing blog he did not believe the crew were dead.

"The number I put on this is 70 to 80 per cent chances, probabilities, of the crew being alive and on the ship and still navigating or drifting," he said.

In working out the chances they asked RCCNZ how effective the radars were aboard the Royal New Zealand Air Force Orions that where used. They were told that the information was classified.

He then told of receiving another email from RCCNZ.

"I thought finally we got some co-operation," Baird said.

"They sent us requests for dental records. They wanted to know what the families were going to say to the coroner. You don't send grieving people who are hoping for news from their loved ones a request for this kind of information."

A prominent Colorado lawyer, Tim Paynter has published a detailed analysis of the search and what may have gone wrong.

He describes the RCCNZ search effort as the largest in their history.

They concluded Nina had sunk as a result of a catastrophic incident.

Paynter says that a text message from Nina had not been delivered but was eventually retrieved by satellite phone company Iridium after US State Department inquiries.

The message showed that the boat was being pushed by wave, wind and current without use of her sails.

Paynter says Nina did not have a modern emergency locator beacon or EPIRB. It had to be manually switched on rather than automatically.

He said owner and captain, David Dyche, was a ''minimalist as far as high-tech radio equipment is concerned''.

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When RCCNZ concluded the yacht had sunk, Paynter says sailors tended to respect the decision.

But he said with no physical evidence of that, families should not give up hope.

''They have not found a debris field, they have not found flotsam, they have not heard a distress signal. They have no first hand account of any problem with the yacht. No one knows.

''RCCNZ were basing their belief that the yacht sank on the failure to get an EPIRB signal.

''I know the RCCNZ did a great job in their search. However, I think the EPIRB statement is callous.''

- Stuff

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