Criticism over Cook Strait biking attempt

01:41, Nov 21 2013
Rick Matenga
PEDALLING ON: Rick Matenga with his paddle cycle pontoon craft.

Search and rescue crews say a water cyclist could have died in his ''ill prepared'' failed attempt at crossing Cook Strait on a bicycle, after they had to pluck the lone man from the water.

Water cyclist Rick Matenga and his support crew sparked a large scale search last night when his attempt to cross the Strait on a pontoon paddle cycle was thwarted by strong currents and a lack of fuel.

Matenga had launched his water bike on inflatable pontoons from Makara, west of Wellington, early yesterday morning, with a support vessel monitoring his Cook Strait cycle attempt.

The group encountered difficulties after skipper of the Haines Hunter runabout support vessel left him mid-strait to fill up on fuel, motoring into Tory Channel where he arranged to get fuel from a local resident.

When he returned he was unable to locate the cyclist, who police said was not carrying any survival equipment, such as food, water, or flares.

The alarm was raised about 7.30pm and the search involved the Sea Patroller, two Coastguard vessels, Tory Channel residents, the Westpac Rescue Helicopter and Cook Strait ferries.

The rescue helicopter spotted the cyclist alone in the Strait, about 2km from Fighting Bay near Port Underwood at 9.10pm last night - about twelve hours into the journey.

He was picked up by a Picton coastguard vessel short of his South Island destination.

Marlborough Police Search and Rescue staff were unimpressed by the failed crossing, calling the attempt "ill-prepared" and rife with "poor decisions," in a statement released today.

Police Search and Rescue Coordinator Nigel Young said Matenga was lucky to have been found as conditions were deteriorating and it was getting dark when he was located.

"This man could easily have ended up losing his life. We put a lot of resources into trying to find him and we're extremely relieved to have succeeded in that."

Young said the skipper of the support vessel was told to remain in the Sounds overnight, but he ignored the advice and returned across Cook Strait in the dark.

"That action could easily have resulted in a further rescue being required. That man's actions were completely irresponsible and the risk he took was entirely unnecessary," Young said.