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Orion Successfully Locates Missing Vessel

The Royal New Zealand Air Force was able to locate a missing vessel near Manihiki (Cook Islands) last night, enabling rescue of a man and a six-year-old boy on board

A P-3K2 Orion and crew were on a routine tasking in Samoa on 8 June when they were asked to assist with two search and rescue missions in the Pacific.

The first request was for a missing vessel near Kiribati but twenty minutes into the flight the crew were advised the vessel had been located. The aircraft was subsequently re-tasked to the Cook Islands where a dingy, with a man and six-year-old boy on board, had been missing for over 24 hours.

Flight Lieutenant Rod Olliff, the aircraft captain on this tasking, says the Orion arrived in the search area near the Cook Islands about two hours after it was re-tasked from the original search.

“We started flying north to south legs to search for the dingy but bad weather was hampering our search so we switched to east to west legs, this decision happened to result in the earlier detection of the dingy.

“There was definitely a strong sense of focus among the crew once we knew a child was in the missing dingy. Locating the dingy was great but it is only the first part of completing a search and rescue,” says FLTLT Olliff.

Once the missing dingy had been located the next step was for the crew to issue communications to vessels in close proximity and request assistance. In this instance the Rarotongan Air Traffic Control advised a vessel and personnel from Manahiki would be dispatched to pick up the two survivors.

“We identified the rescue vessel on our radar and ensured it was tracking in the right direction to the location of the dingy. At the same time we monitored the survivors in the dingy as their wellbeing is paramount after over a day at sea.

“It was just after dark when the rescue vessel met up with the dingy. We used our infra-red systems and radio to direct the vessel to the correct location. The final step was to advise the Manahiki Police that the survivors were aboard the rescue vessel and the vessel was returning to Manahiki, “says FLTLT Olliff.

Although on the surface it was a fairly straightforward mission, the entire operation took over ten hours and involved coordination between the Air Force and several agencies. The Orion is a specialist maritime surveillance aircraft ideal for at sea search and rescue missions.

“While we were searching for the missing dingy we loitered one engine to conserve fuel. On detection of the dingy with the probability that a rescue would be some time away a second engine was loitered to better our chances of being on station to effect a rendezvous and monitor the transfer of the survivors,” says FLTLT Olliff.

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