Hopes fade for crew of missing yacht

NEIL RATLEY
Last updated 05:00 28/04/2014

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Hope of finding a yacht and its three crew missing off the south coast of the South Island is fading.

A third day of searching yesterday failed to turn up any trace of the 7.5-metre Munetra or the three people on board, the yacht's 33-year-old German skipper and two women thought to be tourists.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force joined the search for the missing yacht.

An Orion - the same type of aircraft searching for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 - scoured an area west of Stewart Island.

A helicopter also searched around the Muttonbird Islands.

The Munetra left Bluff headed for Preservation Inlet in Fiordland on April 16 but has not been spotted or heard from since. It was due back in Bluff on April 22.

The acting district commander, Acting Superintendent Lane Todd, said given there had been no contact or sightings of the yacht since it left Bluff, the situation was very serious.

After a briefing last night, the operation was changed to a "limited continuous search phase". That meant there would be no further active searching for the Munetra but any new information surrounding relevant tidal patterns, current movements and debris could result in future searches, Todd said.

Since Friday, police, search and rescue staff, the air force, Southern Lakes Helicopters and the coastguard air-patrol had put in three full days of searching in the area where the missing yacht was expected to be.

Commercial fishing boats had also been actively carrying out observations during their routine fishing operations, Todd said.

Police had hoped for a better outcome and thoughts and sympathies were with all families involved, he said.

Air force Squadron Leader Marcus Hogan said the Orion was tasked with searching a large area of the south coast using radar and visual capabilities.

Conditions were rough but the Orion's capabilities were good enough to detect a yacht the size of the Munetra if it was still intact in the search area, Hogan said.

"We didn't see any sign of it. Hopefully, it's somewhere else."

Bluff Marine Radio operator Meri Leask may have been the last person to have contact with the Munetra. The skipper had only a hand-held radio when he left Bluff in rough conditions, she said. She told him to make contact with any boats he came across and get them to update her on his location.

"I also advised him to ask Kisbee Lodge in Preservation Inlet to contact me when they arrived." Initially there was not a lot of concern about the yacht even after it was late to arrive at its intended port in Preservation Inlet.

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"He was not a communicator so we didn't have concerns about him because of the way he operated," Leask said.

"It didn't matter what we said to him or what anybody said to him, he did his own thing."

Police would not provide names until next of kin were notified.

- Fairfax Media

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