The deaths of two Southland men after a boat capsized in Foveaux Strait was a reminder of the importance of carrying communications equipment and backup for it, the Otago-Southland coroner says.
Shaun David Bethune and Lindsay James Cullen died on January 3 this year after the catamaran Extreme 1 capsized off Ruapuke Island.
Otago-Southland coroner David Crerar held an inquest in Invercargill yesterday.
Mr Bethune's father, Barry, Mr Cullen's friend Denise Zonneveld and her sister Carol Saxton survived.
All five had tried to swim to land after the capsize but Mr Cullen and Shaun Bethune succumbed to hypothermia.
Barry Bethune, the boat's skipper, Mrs Saxton and Mrs Zonneveld, who were rescued after four hours in the water, gave evidence yesterday.
The hearing was told the boat was seaworthy and suitable for the conditions in the strait.
All on board were wearing lifejackets.
However, there was nothing that could be done about the huge wave which capsized the 7.25m catamaran about half an hour into its trip.
Mrs Saxton and Mrs Zonneveld described how a wall of water, which hit within seconds, suddenly rose out of relatively calm seas.
Mr Bethune said he did not see the wave until the boat lurched violently and he instinctively turned against it.
The five people made it on to the upturned hull but were unable to contact land for rescue.
Mr Bethune had an Emergency Position Indicator Radio Beacon (EPIRB) on board but not on his person. "(It) was on a lanyard hanging by the throttle and not in my pocket. It was too big and uncomfortable."
He attempted to retrieve the EPIRB after the capsize, but was unable to do so.
The men had cellphones but these were disabled by the water.
Mr Bethune said he did not call in to the Bluff maritime radio service before leaving port around 6.30pm. He had told his partner when he was due to return.
However, Mr Crerar and Bluff Coastguard skipper Bill Ryan, who also gave evidence, said this would not have made a difference.
The alarm would not have been raised until 10.30pm, when they were expected to return.
In the event they were left with little choice but to swim for shore.
Mrs Saxton and Mrs Zonneveld said they were wearing multiple layers including thermals.
Mr Cullen and Shaun Bethune had been wearing jeans and cotton tops, making them more vulnerable to hypothermia.
Mr Bethune said Mr Cullen had refused to zip up his lifejacket in the water, and that his son was lean and would have lost body heat quickly.
Mr Bethune said he realised Shaun was dead when he saw vomit and water coming out of his mouth.
"His eyes were closed and he was blue . . . I knew at that time he was dead . . . I looked over at Lindsay. He was on his back and he had fluid in his mouth as well. The fluid was sitting there in his mouth, not moving. He was blue. I knew he was dead as well."
The three survivors were rescued by Bluff skipper Rewai Karetai and his wife, Gloria Davis, off Caroline Bay on Ruapuke Island.
The bodies of Shaun Bethune and Mr Cullen were recovered that night by the Bluff Coastguard.
Maritime New Zealand investigator Ian Howden said it was recommended recreational boats had at least two means of communicating on board. Cellphones or hand-held radios should be kept in plastic bags and on the body.
"In my opinion this accident is an example of how suddenly serious accidents in the marine environment can occur and how important it is to have communications that can be operated . . . in the water in the event of capsize or other accident," he said.
Mr Crerar said Mr Bethune had planned appropriately for the trip, except having a backup communications device.
Freak waves were uncommon but a possibility in the Strait, Mr Crerar said. They had previously led to the loss of the fishing vessel Kotuku in 2006, when six people died, and the death of Neville Pascoe off Dog Island in 2010.
Mr Crerar found Shaun Bethune and Mr Cullen died due to exposure to the cold water following the capsize.
- The Southland Times