Lake Hawea. Photo by Garrick Cameron/Studio5.
Among those who searched the Makarora River for missing
jet-boater Murray Rivers on Sunday night was Lake Hawea marine
search and rescue team leader John Haggitt.
The search for Mr Rivers was called off early yesterday and
after a debriefing with police Mr Haggitt went home.
However, he told the Otago Daily Times he could not
sleep for wondering what more could have been done.
Fourteen years ago, Mr Haggitt was involved in a boating
accident of his own, which led to his involvement with search
He and three friends spent 40 minutes in Lake Hawea clinging
to their damaged, capsized and mostly submerged cabin
They did survive and told the Otago Daily Times they
But they also created some of their own luck.
When their boat hit a partly submerged drum at about 15 knots
and sank, they were already wearing their life jackets.
They were eventually able to reach and let off three rocket
flares and one smoke flare.
And they did what the survival manuals suggest - they stuck
together and they stayed with the upturned hull of their
That event prompted Mr Haggitt to learn all he could about
A resident of Kirwee, in Canterbury, he joined the Coastguard
at Lyttelton, upgraded the safety features on his new boat
and now, living at Lake Hawea, he is actively involved in
search and rescue.
He leads a team of 10 "quick response" skippers and crew
ready to hit the water within a few minutes of a distress
"We just go. It's a cold lake and you don't have much time.
"I've been there; done that. I know it's not nice."
The group members have all done safety training courses and,
in return for their services, are reimbursed by police for
fuel used, but not their time.
On October 21, the group will run a Lake Hawea boat safety
open day, providing free boat checks, advice on fire
extinguishers and other safety devices, and flare training.
They will also be introduced to a new "two-minute form",
intended to encourage boat users to leave information on
shore about their intentions - under the windscreens of their
"So often in the evening, especially if it has got windy,
we'll see vehicles over there with trailers and [we wonder]
where are they?
"Are they supposed to be back?
"Are they staying up the lake for a few days?
"What are they doing?
"We wouldn't have a clue. Running the search and rescue unit,
it's nice to know," Mr Haggitt said.
He recalled the Monday evening in March 1998 when he was in
the water "in the middle of Lake Hawea", clinging to the nose
of his submerged cabin cruiser.
He spent 20 frustrating minutes trying to locate the flares
inside the boat then found they were five years out of date
and he could not read the instructions.
Four flares did work, although two of the rocket flares went
"straight down" rather than into the air.
Mr Haggitt still has three yellowing newspaper clippings from
1998 that tell of their close call.
The four were extremely cold and a big swell washing over
their heads threatened to separate them from the boat.
However, their flares were spotted by Jimmy Cotter, Glenys
Hewson and Lorne Capell, who were fishing about 6km away.
After a 20-minute search, they found the group in the water
and pulled them to safety.