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
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
''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.