Only one in capsized boat wore lifejacket

LOST AT SEA: The search for a 52-year-old Katikati man missing since late yesterday afternoon continues on the Waihi Beach-Bowentown coast.
LOST AT SEA: The search for a 52-year-old Katikati man missing since late yesterday afternoon continues on the Waihi Beach-Bowentown coast.

A Waihi Beach fisherman who came across those who escaped a capsized boat near Matakana Island says he hopes lessons can be learned from the tragedy.

Police have revealed that life jackets were on board the boat, but just one of the five people on board was wearing one.

Fisherman Warren Coffey said a friend were out fishing about 7.30pm when they came across the upside-down boat, which had capsized hours earlier after crossing the bar between Bowentown and Matakana Island.

They then spotted four people - three children and an adult – on a nearby island waving for help.

The pair went over and rescued the group.

It was then the children told him their father, a 52-year-old Katikati man who had been skippering the boat, was missing.

‘‘So we just rang the police," Mr Coffey told the Times.

Mr Coffey said he helped with the search Monday night and returned in the morning.

‘‘I just feel really sad that it’s happened in this small community and that someone has lost a father, uncle, brother...I just hope that this story helps get the message out there,’’ said Mr Coffey.

‘‘It’s normally a pretty safe place, but the Bowentown bar can be a pretty dangerous just have to wear your lifejacket all the time.’’

As Waikato Police continue to scour the land and sea for the man, they say is surprising only one person is missing because of the lack of people wearing lifejackets.

The man’s youngest child, aged 7, was wearing one, while his two other children aged 23 and 15 were not.

A family friend aged 14 was also not wearing a life jacket.

Sergeant Warren Shaw from Waikato Police search and rescue said the man was an experienced boatie, having lived in the area for more than 40 years.

"We always hold a glimmer of hope [that the man will be found] but the longer this search goes on we have to be realistic about what we are looking for," he said.

An air, land and sea search of the Tauranga Harbour is continuing today with conditions so clear that searchers can even see jellyfish from the air.

People arrived at the Coastguard headquarters in Bowentown this morning bringing food and support for the many search and rescue personnel and family members gathered there.

Mr Shaw said the family of four and one friend left Tanners Point, near Athenree, at about 4.30pm and after spending time near the Matakana ski lanes they carried on through the Bowentown bar.

"At about 5.30 the boat capsized and all five on board were thrown into the water," Mr Shaw said.

"They all made it back to the upturned boat but then they were washed away again and were separated."

Conditions at the time were said to be moderate to rough, said Coastguard radio control operator and duty officer Brian Grimwood.

"Conditions at the time were an Easterly swell of 1-1.5 metres the wind was 10-15knots, the bar can get quite dangerous but basically the sea conditions were moderate to rough at the time," he said.

Other boaties spoken to by Waikato Times said they would not have considered crossing the bar given conditions at the time.

An experienced boatie with more than 35 years experience, who did not wish to be named, said he would not have entertained the idea of crossing the bar.

"It was bloody rough out there, the Easterly was strong and I kept away - but I really feel for the family involved," he said.

Mr Grimwood said safety at sea was something that should always be taken into account.

"We don’t know whether they were anchored or drifting at the time but at the end of the day what we can say is that life jackets save lives."