Taieri Mouth rescue - Alert radio officer heard vital clue

Four people rescued after a boat capsized off Taieri Mouth yesterday probably owe their lives to a radio operator at Port Otago who overheard their mayday call, search and rescue co-ordinator Senior Sergeant Brian Benn says.

The four men - two from Dunedin, one from Mosgiel and one from Waihola - who were on a fishing trip, were winched from the water by crew from two Otago Regional Rescue Helicopters 12 nautical miles off Taieri Mouth about 11.30am, about an hour after their 7m recreational boat had taken on water and capsized.

Snr Sgt Benn, one of four swimmers who helped pull the men from the water, said the quartet were ''extremely lucky'' to be alive, after one of them made a mayday call as the boat was sinking rapidly.

The location given was overheard by Brian Byas, a harbour control officer at Port Otago, who passed it on to the Maritime Operations Centre in Wellington, which received the mayday call but had not picked up the location of the boat.

''That's how close it came today to having to run a multi-day search for bodies that we would likely never recover. It came down to one person hearing that one word that gave us the location as a start point for the search.''

Apart from being cold and wet, the four men, who were all wearing life jackets, escaped unharmed, he said.

Snr Sgt Benn said he called Mr Byas later to tell him his attentiveness had saved four lives. Mr Byas said after failing to hear the location, operators at the centre had asked the crew member where the boat was, but did not get an answer.

''Protocol is that you don't interfere with maritime radio, but I just had to jump in there,'' Mr Byas said.

''It feels quite good that I've helped save them, because it's pretty daunting knowing that guys are out there alone.''

Dwayne Johnston, of Dunedin, one of the men pulled from the water, said he was shocked at how quickly the boat capsized, saying it was ''literally a minute from it being fully floating to sinking''.

''We were just going for a fish and hit [what] we can only think was just a bit of a wave and . . . water came through the hull. We raced round to find the flares, called the mayday in and then everyone just got together and huddled up,'' Mr Johnston said.

After seeing a helicopter, the men set off a flare, which was not seen by anyone on the helicopter. Fortunately, the hull of the boat floating in the water was spotted. Snr Sgt Benn said the rescue served as a reminder for people to carry several methods of communication when they went boating.

Had the four men set off an electronic locator beacon, they would have been picked up much faster.

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