New Zealand patrol aircraft crew locate two missing fishing boats in five-day Pacific mission

Survivors on a boat from Kiribati were dropped a survival pack with an activated locator beacon that pinpointed their location for rescuers. (Photo: NZDF)

A Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) P-3K2 Orion patrol aircraft crew has helped save the lives of seven Kiribati and Fijian fishers when they carried out three separate search and rescue (SAR) operations over five days in the Pacific.

The crew successfully located two vessels in separate searches. Unfortunately, a third boat, which went missing last week, was unable to be found.

The first of the three searches began on Saturday, November 19, when the Orion was deployed to Kiribati to look for a six-metre wooden fishing boat with three men aboard. The boat had been missing since the previous Wednesday, November 16.

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) had been asked by Maritime New Zealand’s Rescue Coordination Centre (RCCNZ) on behalf of the Rescue Coordination Centre Fiji, which coordinates search and rescues in this region, to send the Orion.

During Saturday afternoon (local time), the Orion crew received a second request to search for another boat with four people aboard, also reported missing from Kiribati.

The crew located this boat on Sunday, November 20, dropping a survival pack that included an activated locator beacon, water, chocolate, a strobe light, a torch, and a note with information about how the four would be rescued.

Staff at the Kiribati maritime coordination centre sent a rescue vessel, which sailed directly to the locator beacon position and rescued the four in the early morning hours of Monday, November 21.

After finding this boat, the Orion crew resumed the search for the first fishing boat. However, despite extensive efforts over the weekend and on Monday, they were unable to locate the vessel.

The Orion was to return to Auckland on Tuesday, November 22, but bad weather forced an overnight stay in Fiji.

On Tuesday evening, the Orion crew received their third request to search for a vessel, a fishing boat reported overdue after departing Gau Island for Suva, Fiji on Saturday night.

The following morning, they found the boat drifting in open water about 40 nautical miles to the southeast, and going away from, Kadavu Island.

The three people aboard appeared well and waved at the crew. One person on the bow was seen attempting to paddle with a makeshift oar.

With no other vessels in the vicinity, the Orion crew dropped a pack with a beacon and radio to the survivors and Fiji Police sent a vessel to their location to take them to safety.

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