NZ Air Force saves drifting Tongan fishermen

01:43, Jan 31 2009
ADRIFT: Tongan fishermen were located by the RNZAF following an emergency call made after they had run out of food and water.

New Zealand's air force has saved six fishermen drifting on disabled fishing boat in a remote area of Tonga.

An RNZAF Orion located the boat Denisiola drifting near Ha'apai, a group of islands and reefs halfway up the Tongan archipelago.

The crew found the stranded sailors at 4.30pm on Saturday after flying three hours from RNZAF Base Whenuapai in Auckland in response to an emergency beacon call.

RNZAF Orion captain Squadron Leader Andy Nielsen said the fishermen had run out of food and water and had been drifting for more than a day after their boat's engine had stopped.

"They were in amongst a lot of reefs when we found them so they would have struck major difficulties if they had remained drifting too much longer. The boat's emergency beacon stopped half an hour before we arrived on the scene so we located them initially through radar."

A Tongan Navy patrol vessel, Pangai, towed the damaged fishing boat back to shore after being told of its location by the Orion crew.

It was the Tongan fishing crew's first voyage in the boat, which was recently purchased from a New Zealand owner.


Fairfax Media