Tragedy spurs lifejacket drive

JOELLE DALLY
Last updated 07:51 10/12/2013
Melissa Clark
Jason Blair

HORROR HOMECOMING: Melissa Clark watched helplessly as her skipper partner, Nick Eklund, was lost to the sea after the Lady Anna capsized while crossing the Grey River bar.

Nick Eklund
Supplied
Nick Eklund

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Sometimes Melissa Clark tells herself that her partner Nick Eklund is just out fishing and will be back in a few days.

Eklund, an experienced skipper, drowned when the Lady Anna capsized on the Grey River bar in April. It was his maiden voyage on the boat.

Images of the boat's capsize and Eklund and his two crewmen sitting on the boat's upturned hull before it broke up were shown on television. None of the crew wore inflatable lifejackets.

As a result of the tragedy, the Shipwreck Welfare Trust, Survitec Group and Maritime New Zealand yesterday launched a joint initiative giving free inflatable life jackets to any small fishing operations working from Westport or Greymouth during the albacore tuna season as long as the fishermen pledged to wear them during bar crossings.

Clark, 43, is lending her support in the hope it will make fishermen "wake up" to the unpredictability of the sea.

Speaking publicly for the first time since Eklund's death, Clark said her "awesome guy" phoned her about 7.30pm the previous day to say he was returning in the morning. Eklund, 36, was working for Talley's.

Clark decided to stop on her way to work to meet him as he came in.

Instead, when she got to the Blaketown tip wall, the Lady Anna was in pieces and Eklund was in the river.

She watched the rescue bid.

"Your brain is just not comprehending what is happening. [It was] horrendous," she said.

Rescuers threw out a lifebuoy, but Eklund, who was not a strong swimmer, could not get to it. After about an hour, they pulled his body out.

"Being there and watching . . . knowing that, if he had a lifejacket on, things would have turned out differently, that he would be here today, I think that was the hardest thing," she said.

Clark has never been back to the spot where Eklund died.

She has put up for sale the Paroa land they bought, where they hoped to build their dream home. They had been together for 13 years.

"Sometimes you tell yourself he's just out fishing. Other times it doesn't seem real."

The West Coast fishing community had "been great".

"Nobody thinks it's ever going to happen to them. Nick would never have gone across the bar if he did not think it was safe," she said.

"It comes down to the unpredictability of the sea."

A Maritime NZ spokesman said the results of its investigation into the incident had been passed on to the coroner for an inquest next year.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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