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Air Force Orion Finds Stricken Yacht

Distressed yacht located by RNZAF P-3K2 Orion electro-optics in fading light
Distressed yacht located by RNZAF P-3K2 Orion electro-optics in fading light

9 April 2014

A Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) P-3K2 Orion aircraft has successfully located a yacht in distress approximately 1200Nm NE of NZ and 600Nm south of Rarotonga.

Responding to a distress signal picked up by the Rescue Coordination Centre of New Zealand (RCCNZ), the P-3K2 Orion and crew from No 5 Squadron at Whenuapai, Auckland found the yacht with its solo Canadian skipper, just on dusk on 7 April.

With the assistance of the P-3K2 Orion, RCCNZ was able to divert the merchant ship FIDELIO to the yacht’s location.

The FIDELIO reached the scene shortly before 11pm and manoeuvred in 25 knot (45km) winds and swells of 2-3m to allow the sailor to climb aboard via the pilot’s ladder.

"The yacht had rolled heavily during a storm a week ago and suffered damage to the hull which had been leaking since", said aircraft captain, Wing Commander Rob Shearer, Commanding Officer of No.5 Squadron.

"The bilge pump had been managing the water but when it failed the solo sailor had resorted to manually bailing. The onset of fatigue had been compounded by the fact that the vessel’s life raft was lost during the storm leaving the sailor with just a life vest.

“Luckily the yacht was carrying a working emergency locator beacon (EPIRB) which made the job of finding it easier.  It’s a great example of why it’s important to have working safety communications equipment at sea.”

RCCNZ Search and Rescue Mission Coordinator Dave Wilson said the skipper was heading home to Canada when he struck difficulty.

“The skipper had been hand-bailing since the storm, but when the bilge pump failed he could no longer keep up with the water.  At that stage he activated the EPIRB,” Mr Wilson said.

There was no question the skipper was in serious danger.  The crew of the Orion did a great job finding the yacht, and it was an amazing effort from the master and crew of the FIDELIO to rescue the skipper at night, in high winds and rough seas. The sailor received superficial facial injuries when his vessel rolled and these have been treated aboard the FIDELIO."

The FIDELIO is continuing on to Auckland and is likely to arrive in Auckland on Thursday.

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